Common Tennis Injuries

Man with Tennis Knee Injury

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Got a knee, shoulder, elbow, or wrist injury from playing tennis? Tennis injuries are generally defined as either cumulative, meaning they occur from overuse, or acute, resulting from trauma.

Types of 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
  • Osteoarthritis of the knee

Types of Traumatic Injuries

Acute or traumatic injuries occur due to a sudden force or impact and can be quite dramatic. The more common traumatic injuries in tennis include:

  • Torn rotator cuff. This 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 tears. These occur in the back of the thigh and often happen suddenly.
  • Muscle sprains and strains. These are acute injuries that vary in severity but usually result in pain, swelling, bruising, and loss of the ability to move and use the joint. They can involve any joint, including the wrist, shoulder, ankle, or knee.
  • Knee injuries. Ligament injuries to the knee are very common in sports that require stopping and starting or quickly changing directions. These extreme forces on the knee can result in torn ligaments. 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. Cruciate ligament injuries don't always cause pain, but typically cause a loud pop. Most of these injuries are confirmed with an MRI.
  • 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). 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.
  • Chondromalacia. This term refers to the softening and deterioration of the underside of the kneecap. In young athletes, this is typically an injury from trauma, overuse, 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. The sensation is a dull pain around or under the kneecap that worsens when walking down stairs or hills, climbing stairs, or other weight-bearing activity.

Miscellaneous Tennis Pain and Injuries

Other minor injuries you can get from playing tennis include:

  • Blisters. These fluid-filled sacks on the surface of the skin commonly occur on the hands or the feet from shoes or holding a racket.
  • Delayed-onset muscle soreness. Also called DOMS, this muscle pain, stiffness, or soreness occurs 24-48 hours after particularly intense exercise or a new 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.
  • Stress fractures. These​ fractures in the leg are often the result of overuse or repeated impacts on a hard surface.

Treating Sore Knees, Shoulders, Wrists, and Elbows

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, if it's your knee or ankle, any time you're sitting down
  • Strengthening exercises

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

How to Help Avoid Injuries

Many sports injuries result from overuse, lack of proper 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 playing
  • 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
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