Lining up for a forehand, it is not uncommon to see a player significantly drop the racquet head then whip it up-and-over like a windscreen wiper. This movement produces increased spin – but also places a lot of stress on the wrist. It requires extreme end-of-range positions in both the wind-up and follow-through stages on structures that are designed to support and limit such movement.
Typically there are two types of wrist injuries – ulnar (little finger) side and radial (thumb) side. According to an American Journal of Sports Medicine study published in 2009, radial-sided injuries often occur to players that use an Eastern forehand grip, with ulnar-sided injuries more common in players with a Western or Semi-Western grip.
Players that use a double-handed backhand also have a tendency to develop ulnar-sided wrist pain in their non-dominant hand due to the amount of wrist extension and deviation that is required to drop the racquet head in preparation for the shot.
When players make a change to their technique or equipment, this can lead to injury. As the muscles and tissues around the wrist become conditioned to a repetitive amount and frequency of strain, even small changes can have profound effects. Making alterations to the weight of the racquet, string tension, or grip size need to be made slowly, allowing the tissue time to adapt to the change. This process should happen steadily over a period of four-to-six weeks, permitting any soreness to settle over two-to-three days.
Strengthening wrists, both for power and endurance, is vital. Although injury often occurs when muscle support has been weakened through fatigue. The muscles and other soft tissues require time between each bout of loading to recover and to rebuild themselves to grow stronger. Strengthening should begin with light resistance, focusing on high repetition (x30-40 repetitions) as this is the type of strain the muscles need to endure with tennis.
Strengthening also needs to include movements not just in the up-and-down plane of the wrist, but also the side-to-side motion along with rotation and twisting motion. Overall grip strength is important too.
Perfecting technique is another preventative measure. It is important not just to focus on what the wrist is doing, but also the entire upper limb and trunk. The wrist is the last link in a long chain which generates the force that needs to be transmitted to the racquet. It should be used to transmit rather than create force.
There are a number of precautionary measures that can be taken when returning to the court post injury:
This article originally appeared in Australian Tennis Magazine.
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