The winter and spring seasons present a great opportunity to work on your tennis game. You may be able to do this even if you’re busy with other sports in order to prevent serious shoulder problems when you jump back into tennis full force for the spring, summer and fall seasons. In a sport that relies so heavily on the use of the shoulder, it is very common to develop occasional shoulder pain or a more chronic problem such as shoulder rotator cuff tendinitis. That is exactly what happened to professional tennis star, Maria Sharapova this past summer. On a local level, young Peter Cognetti, former Scranton Prep tennis standout, who is presently playing Division I tennis at Saint Joseph’s University, was recently in my office for shoulder pain. With this in mind, I decided to research this problem further and had several discussions with Bill Steege, member of the United States Professional Tennis Association and general manager of Tennis & Fitness Club in Clarks Summit, PA.
Playing tennis at any level requires the shoulder to be very strong. Unfortunately, studies show that playing tennis often, throughout the year fails to develop an increase in shoulder strength. Couple this finding with the fact that most high school tennis players are engaged in other sports throughout the year. Tennis is more of a seasonal high school sport (Fall for girls and Spring for boys). In the off-season, a shoulder can lose much of its essential strength. This loss will result in a deconditioned shoulder at the start of the season and making it more susceptible to injury. Practicing with a deconditioned shoulder commonly results in sprain, strain and pain. Pain and weakness will significantly interfere with the ability to perform at a high level.
To prevent shoulder problems one must participate in a exercise program specifically designed for tennis. A well-balance shoulder strengthening program includes; rotator cuff and scapular (shoulder blade) muscle exercises, reeducation, biomechanics, and a stretching program pre and post hitting. This column will discuss some of these principles to properly prepare your shoulder for the tennis season and avoid injury.
To avoid shoulder pain it is necessary to maintain shoulder strength. Stretching exercises are also important and will be discussed in a future column. Strengthening exercises need to concentrate on three groups of muscles: power muscles (the large muscles of the shoulder), shoulder blade stabilizer muscles (the muscles which stabilize the shoulder blade, and the all important rotator cuff muscles (the muscles which move the shoulder and control the cocking and follow through phases of the tennis stroke, while keeping the joint in proper position). Strengthening the power muscles of the shoulder is fairly easy; latissimus pull downs, pectoralis bench presses, and bicep curls will cover all bases. While these exercises are important in maintaining strength and power of the throwing shoulder, they are not as important as the exercises for the shoulder stabilizers and rotator cuff muscles.
Perform with comfortable weight 15-20 repetitions. Advance weight once 25 reps becomes easy. Perform slowly and smoothly.
Latissimus Pull downs - Kneeling or sitting
Tie resistive tubing overhead and pull down toward the floor
Begin with elbows bent and advance to elbows straight
Bench Press - Lying on back with knees bent
Hold a 5-10-15-20# dumbbell in each hand
Press both arms up to a straight elbow
Biceps Curls - Sitting or standing
Hold a 5-10-15-20# dumbbell in one hand
Bend elbow up
Use other hand to support arm under elbow
Repeat with other arm
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
Contributor: Gary E. Mattingly, PT, PhD: Professor, University of Scranton, Dept. of Physical Therapy, Shoulder Rehab Specialist, Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy