Common Tennis Injuries

Man with Tennis Knee Injury

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Got a knee, shoulder, elbow, or wrist injury from playing tennis and looking for treatment options? Or maybe you aren't injured at all and hoping to keep it that way by learning the best ways to stay healthy on the court.

The first step is to understand the types of tennis that can occur. The next is to understand how to treat a tennis injury should one exist, as well as to learn the best prevention tips. This can keep you as healthy as possible both during play and in between matches.

Types of Tennis Injuries

Tennis injuries are generally defined as either cumulative, meaning that they occur from overuse, or they are acute, resulting from trauma. Then there are a few others that don't really fall into either category but can cause pain and discomfort nonetheless.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries occur over time due to stress on the muscles, joints, and soft tissues without proper time for healing. They begin as a small, nagging ache or pain and can grow into a debilitating injury if they aren't treated early.

Injuries that fall into this category include:

  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
  • Bursitis of the elbow
  • Shoulder tendinitis, bursitis, and impingement syndrome
  • Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis)
  • Wrist tendinitis
  • Achilles tendinitis
  • Iliotibial band syndrome
  • Stress fractures
  • Osteoarthritis of the knee

Traumatic Injuries

Acute or traumatic injuries occur due to a sudden force or impact and can be quite dramatic. Examples of trauma-based tennis injuries include:

  • Torn rotator cuffThis tear in the shoulder is common in tennis and can range from mild to severe.
  • Shoulder separation: This injury is actually a stretching or tearing of the ligaments between the collarbone and shoulder blade.
  • Achilles tendon rupture: This tear happens when the Achilles tendon is stretched too far.
  • Hamstring pulls or tearsThese occur in the back of the thigh and often happen suddenly.
  • Muscle sprains and strains: These are acute injuries that can involve any joint, including the wrist, shoulder, ankle, or knee. They vary in severity but usually result in pain, swelling, bruising, and loss of the ability to move and use the joint.
  • Knee injuries: Ligament injuries to the knee are very common in sports that require stopping and starting or quickly changing directions. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL) are the most often injured, but the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) can also be injured.
  • Torn knee cartilage (meniscus injuries): Torn knee cartilage is usually a torn meniscus. These small, "c" shaped pieces of cartilage act as cushions between the thigh bone (femur) and the tibia (shin bone). There's one on the outside (lateral meniscus) and one on the inside of the knee (medial meniscus).

Miscellaneous Injuries

There are a few additional minor injuries you can get from playing tennis that aren't necessarily related to overuse or trauma. They are:

  • Blisters: These fluid-filled sacks on the surface of the skin commonly occur on the hands from holding a racket, or on the feet from your shoes.
  • Delayed-onset muscle soreness: Also called DOMS, this muscle pain, stiffness, or soreness occurs 24-48 hours after particularly intense exercise or when starting a new workout program.
  • Plantar fasciitis: This is the most common cause of pain on the bottom of the heel and is usually defined by pain during the first steps of the morning.
  • Chondromalacia: This term refers to the softening and deterioration of the underside of the kneecap. In young athletes, it can be caused from trauma or overuse. But it can also be a result of poor alignment of the knee joint or muscle imbalance. This leads to friction and rubbing under the kneecap that causes damage to the surface of the cartilage.

How to Tell If You May Have a Tennis Injury

Pain or discomfort in your joints, muscles, or other soft tissues may be a sign that you have an injury from playing tennis. Other signs can vary based on the particular issue.

For instance, cruciate ligament injuries don't always cause pain, but typically cause a loud pop. Most of these injuries are confirmed with an MRI. Chondromalacia generally involves a dull pain around or under the kneecap that worsens when walking down stairs or hills, climbing stairs, or other weight-bearing activity.

Meniscus tears are often the result of twisting, pivoting, decelerating, or a sudden impact. These tears can be identified by various manual tests a physician can perform to detect torn cartilage.

If your pain is severe, lasts a long time, and/or it's interfering with your daily activities, be sure to call your doctor.

Tennis Injury Treatment

If you're experiencing joint pain in your knees, shoulders, wrists, ankles, or elbows, there are some at-home remedies you can try, including:

  • Rest
  • Ice or cold compress for swelling, especially for the first 48 hours
  • Compression with an elastic bandage
  • Elevation any time you're sitting down if it's your knee or ankle
  • Strengthening exercises

Injury Prevention Tips

Many sports injuries result from overuse, not enough rest, lack of proper warm-ups, or poor conditioning. You can follow these safety precautions to help prevent tennis injuries:

  • Warm up thoroughly prior to play
  • Cool down when you're done
  • Wear the right tennis shoes with skid-resistant soles
  • Use good technique and play by the rules
  • Have a coach or trainer help you understand the physical demands of the sport
  • Clean off the courts before play and check for slippery spots or debris
  • Have a first aid kit on hand
  • Get adequate recovery
  • Stay hydrated
  • Keep exercising
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.