Guest Post by:

Shane K. Woolf, M.D.
Chief, Sports Medicine Service
Medical University of South Carolina

Summer has arrived and folks of all ages are spending time outdoors pursuing their favorite active pastimes.  Tennis and golf are two of the more popular activities with about 12 and 30 million participants each year, respectively, in the United States.1  As our population ages, many participants fall (reluctantly) into the category of ‘mature’ recreational athlete. For these folks, staying healthy and avoiding injury is paramount to enjoyment of their favorite sport. The positive health benefits of athletic activity are quickly lost when injury occurs. Fortunately, some simple preparation and training tips can help to reduce your risk of injury in either sport!tennis player

Stay Flexible

Keeping a regular flexibility routine either through yoga or simple ‘sitting-on-the-floor-in-the-living-room’ stretches can help keep your joints, tendons and muscles ready for action in both tennis and golf. The shoulders and upper limbs as well as the trunk/back are under significant stress during the swing of a club or racquet.  Torque exerted during rotation of the torso or shoulder in order to make contact with the ball, can be among the highest stresses the human body might experience. It is a little like wringing out, or even whipping, a damp towel, if you think about it. Limber ligaments, tendons and muscles are more forgiving, allowing the necessary rotation to achieve motion and also to tolerate these stresses without resulting in a strained muscle or sprained ligament.

Maintain CORE strength

So what exactly is the ‘core’ that I keep hearing about, you ask? Think of it as the central framework and support structure for your whole body. The core is centered about your spine, abdominal musculature and pelvis. It is important for correct posture, balance, coordination, and is the key to many athletic moves. Consider a core routine as your Central Orthopedic Rehabilitative Exercise program. This would include abdominal strengthening, lumbar spine strengthening, hip strengthening, and balance training. Yoga and Pilates can be useful to achieve this. The web is also a fine resource for DIY core stability exercises such as planks, bird-dog/airplane, side-bridges, exercise ball activities and balance exercises. A fitness instructor at your local gym or wellness center can also help get you started in the right direction.

Keep the Arms and Shoulders Strong

Repetitive power gripping and the swing of a club or racquet can cause microtrauma to the rotator cuff tendons, biceps, and the extensors or flexors of the forearm (ie tennis elbow – lateral epicondylitis, and golfers elbow – medial epicondylitis). The backhand tennis swing coupled with wrist weakness has been linked to development of elbow pain. The soft tissues in older athletes are more likely to be degenerative and also more likely to be damaged with both repetitive use as well as improper mechanics. Similarly, the medial, or inside edge, of the elbow is under stress when forearm flexors are engaged during a golf swing.

Some keys to avoiding injury are flexibility of the forearm muscles, balanced strength from shoulder to wrist, and gradual increase in play. As anyone who has had a sudden increase in the number of sets or holes played will attest, these muscles are usually not happy for a few days afterward. 

Stay Hydrated

The hot days of summer can be especially dehydrating after even a short period of activity. Realize that the heat index will effectively make a hot day much hotter physiologically due to the effect of humid air on the body’s cooling mechanism. In dry climates, evaporative fluid loses can happen with little notice, thus resulting in dehydration without much warning. Dehydration can impair the cardiac, renal, and neurologic systems. Performance is diminished at best, and serious health risks can happen with deeper levels of fluid losses. Take regular water breaks or indulge in a sports drink, but be careful with the caffeinated beverages and avoid that adult beverage until AFTER your round in the hot sun. Alcohol and caffeine can worsen the effects of dehydration.

Consider a Medical Consultation Prior to Starting a New Activity

For mature athletes, especially those with existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, asthma, obesity, among others, it is advisable to consult with your primary care provider before engaging in a new or more strenuous activity (eg joining a competitive tennis league after a year of inactivity). Medical issues are not necessarily going to keep you off the court or course, but having your health optimized can make for a safer and more enjoyable experience. Primary care sports medicine physicians are especially in tune with your athletic passions and how to address the ailments that need to be considered. Similarly, existing bone and joint problems may be manageable in ways that allow sports participation, even without surgery. A visit with an orthopaedic sports medicine specialist to discuss your injury may help you find a way to get back into the action!

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1 www.usta.com, www.usga.org