| By Dr. Karèn Avensov

Tennis is a sport that requires multiple muscle groups and ligaments to work in perfect symmetry to generate power and accuracy. One of the areas of the body that is often overlooked among tennis players is the spine, as both casual and professional tennis players tend to focus on avoiding injury to the upper extremities. However, spinal injuries can make it difficult, if not impossible, to compete and can affect the function of both the upper and lower extremities. Different swings and returns utilize the spine in various ways, and the key to avoiding spinal injuries is all about conditioning.

The first shot any tennis player learns is the basic forehand, and it is the shot most often utilized during a match. A player’s leg muscles are no doubt burning for much of the match after running back and forth. This may lead to the casual player to become fatigued and their technique may suffer. On a low shot to the forehand or backhand side of the player, they may bend their back in order to give their legs a break, but still get low enough to hit the ball. This motion puts a significant amount of strain on the spine, and should a player get into the habit of rounding the back, it would almost certainly cause strain to the muscles of the back and possibly even a herniation of a spinal disc. The proper technique is to bend the knee and keep the back completely straight, much the same way a weightlifter would perform a dead lift. This allows the forces to be absorbed by the legs instead of the spinal column.

The tennis serve requires an initial hyperextension of the spine, followed by a rapid acceleration forward to generate power. This hyperextension of the lower back puts stress on small joints in the spine, known as the facet joints, as well as the muscles and ligaments that support the spine. Every time a player attempts to serve, they are putting immense pressure on their spinal column, and that repetition could cause a curvature of the spine. Much like the basic forehand or backhand, it is important to keep your spine perfectly erect during the entire process of the serve. A player will want to give their legs and knees a rest during the serve, but in doing that, the player will dip their spine towards their dominant hand. This will not only take speed and accuracy away from your serve, but put unnecessary pressure on the spine as well.

Continuing to serve with poor technique will catch up to a player very quickly and soon that player will feel thoracic back pain. Many factors go into a technically sound serve, but the most important of which is conditioning. The easiest way to develop bad habits during play is to compensate while playing tired. If you want to not only avoid back pain, but gain speed and accuracy on your serve, work on your core strength and conditioning, and straighten out your back.

For a player already suffering back pain on the court, it is not smart to continue playing through the pain. If you are looking for inspiration, look no further than former Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray, who underwent spinal surgery last November and was able to make it back for all of 2014’s major tournaments. He even reached the semifinals of the French Open, his best ever finish at Roland Garros. Murray has said that, since his surgery, he feels more free on the court, while being able to get to and take the shots you could never before dream of. Even Wimbledon champions know when to shut it down and not make a bad thing worse.

If you or a loved one is feeling back or any other type of pain while out on the court, do not hesitate to contact Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine for an evaluation and treatment plan to get you back in top shape. Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine has locations across Long Island and Manhattan. For more information, visit www.TotalOrthoSportsMed.com or call (888) 838-2340.

Dr. Karèn Avensov

<p>Dr. Kar&egrave;n Avensov of Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine is a Board Certified Orthopedic Spine Surgeon. A graduate of the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine where he received his medical degree, Dr. Avensov completed his internship and residency training in orthopaedic surgery at the Peninsula Hospital Center-North Shore Long Island Jewish Consortium. Dr. Avanesov&rsquo;s clinical areas of interest are Adult and Pediatric Spinal Surgery, Spinal trauma, Deformity, Scoliosis, Complex Spinal Reconstruction and Degenerative Conditions of Lumbar and Cervical Spine, Minimally invasive Spine Surgery.</p>