| By Chris Ostling

If everyone could put down their rackets and hold their breath for a second, you might be able to hear your body talking to you. How do you feel after playing a tennis match? The next morning, do you always have stiffness in your groin or hips? Do you have some soreness in your shoulder that fortunately goes away within a day or two? Shhh! Be quiet and listen, because your body is trying to talk to you. It may be telling you that something’s wrong. Your body is an incredible healing machine, but at times, it needs our help. This is true for the avid player who plays six days a week, as well as the occasional player who gets out there twice a month.

The great news about musculoskeletal pain is that if you listen to your body’s aches and pains, you can usually identify exactly where your problem lies. If you play tennis once a week and every day after you play, your hip muscles are sore, then the message that your body is trying to tell you is that “my hip muscles aren’t strong enough to do what I’m asking them to do. They’re not used to doing what I’m making them do.”

This is most often the case for players who don’t play frequently enough for their muscles to adapt to the rigors of tennis. For these people, adding a little more activity between tennis dates (when you are not sore anymore) can often influence the body to adapt so that the muscles can tolerate the stresses of tennis. A great idea would be to add a “lighter” tennis date during the week where you just hit instead of playing a full match. Don’t have time? How about adding a walking program for 20-30 min. at lunch? The idea is that the body needs repeated stimulus in order for the muscles to adapt, and for many individuals, exercising once a week isn’t enough of a stimulus to cause a change in muscles. These people are unfortunately stuck in a cycle of injury and repair every week.
This type of muscle soreness is part of the normal process, and as long as the pain resolves after a few days, there shouldn’t be any cause for concern. If the pain does not resolve after one week and is carried over into your normal daily activities, then a trip to the physical therapist is definitely warranted.

Let’s take a look at the other end of the tennis activity spectrum … the avid player who cannot get enough tennis no matter how much he or she plays. These people don’t have the same problem, but they need to listen to their body as well.

The avid player’s muscles are accustomed to playing tennis. They’re used to the stresses encountered with all the strokes, footwork and changes in direction. They are more likely to experience repetitive stress and overuse injuries. Just like the “under-use” injuries, your body will tell you when you may be getting an overuse injury—if you are listening.

These injuries typically appear very insidiously, seemingly out of nowhere, with no specific event causing them. At first, it is usually felt the next day or later that day. As a matter of fact, noting when it hurts can tell you a little bit about the severity. If it hurts after playing, the injury is currently less severe than if it hurts during play. If it hurts only when you play tennis, it is currently less severe than if it hurts when you play and when taking part in normal daily activities.

I use the word currently because these injuries tend to progress as the repetitive motion continues (we’re not about to stop playing tennis are we?). Pain levels, duration and frequency of pain all tend to increase as we continue. This would be your body’s way of no longer talking, but rather screaming, for help. At this point, rest and rehabilitation would be the proper course of action. A good physical therapist, and for those of you serious enough, a good tennis pro (to identify errors in your stroke), can figure out why you’re having a repetitive stress syndrome and what to do to correct it.

The good news is that if you listen to your body, you can detect these syndromes very early. By getting the proper treatment, you can save yourself a tremendous amount of pain and lessen the time it takes to get you back to the sport we all love.

Chris Ostling

<p>Chris Ostling, PT, DPT is with Next Step Physical Therapy in Hicksville, N.Y. Chris is an orthopedically-trained physical therapist with experience treating both novice and professional tennis players. For more information, contact Chris by phone at (516) 681-8070, e-mail <a href="mailto:nextstep@nextsteppt.com?subject=Re%3A%20Long%20Island%20Tennis%20...@nextsteppt.com</a> or visit <a onclick="window.open(this.href,'wwwnextstepptcom','resizable=yes,location=yes,menubar=no,scrollbars=yes,status=yes,toolbar=no,fullscreen=no,dependent=no,status'); return false" href="http://www.nextsteppt.com">www.nextsteppt.com</a>.&nbsp;</p>