Tennis injuries: How and when to use cold therapy

With warmer weather around the corner, most tennis buffs will be eager to get outside and hit the tennis courts this summer. Often known as a “lifetime” sport, tennis is a great way for people of all ages and levels of athletic ability to stay in shape. 

However, like most sports, it comes with its share of injuries. Take for instance Sarthak Bahri, 28, a hardcore tennis buff, who had to recently take a break from his favourite sport because of an overuse injury. The doctor attributed this to improper or inadequate physical and technique training. 

As it’s not a contact sport, we don’t always think of tennis as a high-risk game. But tennis is a fast-paced activity and players can sustain a number of injuries, especially on hard surface courts. 

Below are the five most common tennis injuries.

1. Tennis ElbowThe “tennis elbow” involves an overuse of the muscles that extend the wrist or bend it backwards and is also the muscle most used when the tennis ball impacts the racquet. Proper strengthening of this muscle and other muscles around it, along with a regular warm-up routine, will help decrease the likelihood of experiencing tennis elbow. 

2Ankle Sprains: Since tennis can be a fast-paced game, a sudden sideways motion can cause the ankle to twist, stretching out or damaging one of the ligaments in the ankle. A sprain can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the ankle. The ankle is often unstable, and bruising can also occur.

5. Rotator cuff tendonitis: Injury to the rotator cuff (the sheath of tendons and ligaments that supports the arm at the shoulder joint) can be very painful. It often affects recreational players with improper serving form. The rotator cuff can tear gradually as a result of overuse, but can also result from an acute injury. Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include pain, tenderness, and weakness in the shoulder, difficulty lifting the arm, and snapping and crackling noises while moving the shoulder.

4. Stress fractures in the back: Because tennis serves require a combination of hyperextension, or bending the back, and side-bending and rotation of the trunk, stress fractures are a common injury. Stress fractures are not always painful, but can result in pain in the lower back that gets worse with activity.

5. Patellar Tendonitis (aka Jumper’s Knee): The patellar tendon attaches the kneecap to the shinbone and aids in the movement of the leg and supporting our weight when walking and jumping. Jumping, in particular, can put excessive strain on this tendon, and repetitive jumping, which is often a part of tennis, can cause microscopic tears and injury to the patellar tendon. 

The good news is that the RICE principle has been used for many years to treat such injuries, mostly muscle related tears, swelling and inflammation, such as the tennis elbow. Since the swelling and inflammation that follows an injury is due to the leakage of blood from the ruptured capillaries, cold therapy can help by causing the blood vessels to constrict. This constriction prevents the further leakage of blood and serum and minimises swelling and pain.

How does RICE work on tennis injuries?

Rest: This means avoiding all activity that could potentially aggravate your injury. Complete rest may lead to the muscles seizing up on you, which could lead to further damage and longer rehab time. You want to keep your elbow mobile and keep blood flowing to the tissues and muscles. This will aid in the healing process. Use pain as a guide to what you can and cannot do. 

Ice: At the first sign of inflammation, use ice. Never put ice directly on your skin as this may lead to tissue and skin damage. The best solution here would be to use a portable ice belt like the SandPuppy Coldstrap, which uses proprietary formulation that lasts 45 minutes in the recommended temperature range of 4 to 14 degree Celsius. That’s three times longer as compared to normal cooling gels available. A two-hour cooling in a refrigerator allows 45 minutes of usage. The best part about the Coldstrap is that it is portable, which means you can strap it around the injured area and carry on with your day’s work. In case of tennis injuries, the Coldstrap works best as its unique strapping mechanism allows the relaxation of different muscles and pain areas, unlike even the most flexible gel pack, which won’t completely surround your ankle, wrist, elbow, knee, or back.

CompressionCompression involves wrapping a bandage or wrap over the ice pack to help decrease swelling and inflammation. However, the bandage or wrap should not be so tight to the point of cutting off blood flow. You should not feel pain or a tingly sensation while using compression. The SandPuppy Coldstrap has a premium fabric to strap and hold the gel, meaning it will stay in place, and provide adequate compression without you needing to hold it.

ElevateRaise and rest your arm, in case of a tennis elbow, so that it is above the level of your heart. You can prop it up on a couple of pillows or on the arm of your couch. The aim here is to decrease the swelling in your elbow. By elevating your elbow, there is less blood pooling, thereby decreasing the inflammation.

It is recommended that you implement the RICE principle every four to six hours for up to 48 hours after the injury. If you do not experience relief within 48 hours, you might need to consult your doctor or hospital as there could possibly be something more serious going on, such as a broken bone.

Once you have completed the RICE principle and your elbow and muscles feel healthy enough, you should start increasing strength and endurance in the tendons, ligaments and muscles around the elbow and forearm, so you can get fit and eventually get back to battling it out on the court again.