A Guide to Less Arm Pain

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So You Have Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, commonly shorted to TE, has been a plague that has beset the tennis nation more and more. Increasing numbers of players complain of this pain that seems to come from around the elbow. “It hurts,” says one. “After I play tennis, I need copious amounts of ice,” complains another. What can you do?

First of all, if you’ve been having serious pain for any serious length of time (one week or more), stop and put away your rackets. Playing while injured in ANY sport is not a good thing. Tennis is no different. If you’ve been suffering from tennis elbow consistently, STOP. Let your arm heal. The only way to do that is to STOP HITTING. It’s not pleasant and you may miss the sport, but do your arm and your body a favor. Take a month long break.

Fact of the matter is, technique is the NUMBER ONE CONTRIBUTOR to tennis elbow. If you have shoddy technique, you are a very likely candidate for tennis elbow. Stopping the racket mid swing, not swinging out, hitting too close to the body, arming the ball, etc are all indicative of poor technique that can lead to arm pain. After taking a break, see the nearest pro and have them critique your technique.

So now you’ve been to your local pro and he tells you that your technique is fine. After giving you a pointer or two on how to better hit that pesky inside out forehand approach into the corner, you come onto the court the following day… and continue to have arm pain! The next things for you to look at are your strings. Are you using polyester strings? Are you using kevlar strings? If the answer is YES to either of these, get rid of them! Polyester and kevlar strings are stiff and a major contributor to tennis elbow. If you absolutely INSIST on keeping polyester in your frame (and you really shouldn’t), then switch to an arm friendly polyester. Something like Babolat Pro Hurricane, Pro Supex Big Ace, Genesis Black Magic, etc. A much better and more arm friendly option is to switch to either a synthetic gut (if your wallet has been taking a pounding), a multifilament, or a natural gut (if you care to splurge). These much softer options are far more arm friendly. The best string if you have tennis elbow is natural gut (a particularly soft and comfortable one is Pacific Prime, although even the cheapest/worst gut is better than any multi in terms of elbow friendliness). Natural gut is the most comfortable, the least stiff, the absolutely best string for anybody suffering from arm pain. If you can’t afford a full bed of natural gut, consider a hybrid of natural gut and synthetic gut. The natural gut in the mains will contribute most of the feel and softness and arm friendliness of the gut, while the synthetic in the crosses sharply decreases the overall cost of the string bed.  If this hybrid stuff confuses you, just remember this: natural is good.  The more natural, the better.

Next, what tension are you stringing your strings at? If you’re one of THOSE people that strings Luxilon Alu Rough at 75 pounds in your Pure Drive and wonders why your arm is in a sling… STOP! Unless you have arms of steel, do not string Luxilon in the 70’s! The lower the tension, the better off your arm is. Lower tensions absorb more of the impact from the ball hitting the strings, and less power/shock is transferred to your arm. A good starting point for anybody suffering from mild arm pain/discomfort is to lower your tension by 3 pounds. If that’s not enough, try lowering 2 more pounds. If that’s still not enough, then you need to switch strings.

Grip size is rarely mentioned as a contributor to tennis elbow, but it is a contributor nevertheless. Try to avoid playing with anything too small, as the twisting of the racket in your hands doesn’t make your arm happy. Playing with something too big may strain your hand too much and you may not be able to hold onto the racket properly, again damaging your elbow. Don’t be stupid and try to emulate the pros with their smaller grip sizes. They’re pros and they’re able to generate massive amounts of speed that makes the twisting of the racket much less of an issue. Unless you can generate headspeed like Nadal, don’t imitate him by using an overly small grip.

Next on the chopping block is your racket. There are some rackets that are simply menaces. That’s not to say that they’re not great rackets for some people. However, rackets that are overly stiff and overly light kill the arms. Light rackets aren’t good for the simple reason that the lighter the racket, the greater the impulse that is transmitted to your arm. Brining elementary physics into the picture, the momentum of the ball has to go somewhere. That “somewhere” is dependent upon mass. If you’ve got a feather for a racket, then virtually all of that momentum goes straight up your arm. Stiff rackets are likewise horrible for your arm. The stiffer a racket, the greater the shock that is transmitted through the racket into your arm. The more flexible, the less. Thus, rackets that extremely light and extremely stiff should be avoided at all costs. Other rackets that are often cited for causing arm problems include the Babolat Pure Drive, Babolat Aero Pro Drives, Head Extremes, Wilson 6.1 95’s, and others. If you’ve made sure your technique is good, your strings are soft, your tension is low and your grip size is right for you and you’re STILL having arm pain, it’s time to switch. Switch to something that’s flexible, and preferably somewhat hefty. Good advice with regards to weight is to use something that’s as heavy as you can handle. Prokennex makes excellent rackets that are extremely arm friendly. Find something that catches your eye and try it out! Another racket/family of rackets that is very arm friendly is the V1 line by Volkl/Becker. Both the MP and OS versions are excellent arm friendly rackets that provide some nice oomph.

Tennis elbow is something that’s extremely unpleasant. It’s also something that doesn’t necessarily reflect the immediate. If you used to play with something extremely stiff a few months ago but then switched, pain might not manifest for a few months. Keep this in mind when your arm starts to hurt. Take a while off, and then find what exactly it is that is causing you arm pain.

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5 Responses to “A Guide to Less Arm Pain”

  1. Marie Says:

    Very informative.

  2. Matt Says:

    -Pro Hurricane Tour is one of the stiffest strings out there. Do NOT use this if you have arm pain.
    -Technique does not have any correlation to tennis elbow, as people with all different ways of hitting the ball get tennis elbow everyday. There is no right or wrong way to hit.
    -Your article was very informative, and I would even suggest to people to drop their tension by 10-15 pounds. I started stringing my rackets at 38 (they were at 58) and the difference is amazing!

    • Daniel Miao Says:

      Hey,

      Glad to see your response.

      To address your comments…

      1. PHT is a very different string from PH. The tour is far stiffer. RSI rates the tour in the mid 250’s (I think) while PH gets a rating under 200, comparable to that of PSG. Granted, it’s still poly, it’s not the softest stuff around, but it’s a heck of a lot better than, say, Alu.

      2. There is good technique, and there is bad technique. If you’re hitting in such a way that you’re consistently shanking, you’re very likely to get TE. Thus, if you have arm pain, you need to get your game looked at to make sure you’re not doing something fundamentally wrong/overstressing any one ligament when hitting.

      3. There is a very interesting article by Tennis Warehouse (check out their boards) that posted the results of stringing rackets at 30, 20, 10 and handpulled tensions. Incredibly, there was very little loss in control, and a lot of benefits. However, in order not to scare people too badly, it’s a better bet to drop tension slowly and by smaller increments (ala 3-5 pounds) so that people can get used to the lower tensions.

      As always, thanks for reading!

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  4. Ambrose Viccars Says:

    I think your blog is great. Just keep on! I think so, I will be back again.

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