This is a guide for tennis players who want to limit their chances of getting tennis elbow (TE) , or reduce the pain associated with it. Hopefully this advice may even help to cure your TE which it has done for some of my players. Topics covered are; best tennis racket for tennis elbow, best string and other factors which contribute to tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow (TE) is one of the biggest problems in today’s modern game. The ITF estimate that 50% of tennis players will suffer from tennis elbow at some point during their playing career. It is a really common complaint for many club level players. Professional players very rarely get TE due to their off court strength training and efficient stroke biomechanics.
Once you have TE it is very hard to get rid of and can be agonisingly painful. It can get so bad that it hurts to pick up a pen, or even a pint!! Do not ignore any twinges and think that it will just go away over time. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have just pulled out of upcoming tournaments due to elbow injuries. It has been reported that both have them have continued to play through pain and who knows how long they might be out for now!
Your day job or other hobbies might be making your TE worse or could even be the main cause. Make sure to see a good physio who can advise further and assess your situation. Russ Davison, based in Queensferry, is one of the best physios in the UK and has worked with many elite sports professionals. See North Wales Sports Clinic
Main factors for tennis elbow (in no particular order)
- Technique (especially one handed backhands)
- Type of racket
- Type of string and tension
- Grip size
- Old and dead tennis balls
Any off centre hits can increase your chances of doing damage to your elbow as more vibration is transmitted to your arm. Improving your technique can reduce your amount off centre hits and therefore reduce the amount of shock.
The single handed backhand is widely known to cause TE for club level players. This is simply down to poor technique. Lots of club players get way too close with their contact point and this puts all of the muscles in the arm under a lot of stress. Also players often finish in awkward positions with their arm during the follow through.
One of my top tips is to try and finish with your arm completely straight at the end of the shot. Loosening your grip can also help. Changing to a two handed backhand has worked for some of my players.
However your serve, forehand or volley technique may be causing the problem which is why it is important to have your technique assessed by a qualified tennis professional.
Light and stiff rackets can be very DANGEROUS for your arm as more shock is absorbed to the arm rather than the racket. Brands like Babolat are renowned for not being arm friendly.
Head heavy rackets and aluminium frames (often cheap rackets) are very harsh.
Use the heaviest racket that you can handle (pardon the pun). Yonex DR 98 and Pro Kennex Q5 315 are two rackets that have worked really well for two of my players with arm problems. These are 315 grams unstrung and have a head light balance. They shouldn’t feel too heavy for most players and will actually give you more power as there is more mass as long as you can keep the swing speed.
Try your local sports shop and ask to see if they have the above rackets or any alternatives with similar specs, but are ARM FRIENDLY. Unfortunately a lot of shops just stock rackets designed for professional players which will make them more money and are not the right racket for you. Try rackets BEFORE buying. I will be doing a blog soon listing arm friendly rackets so keep an eye out for this.
To summarise, make sure you choose a racket which has a low flex rating (low 60s or even lower if possible), is a full graphite material, not too light weight (290 grams and above) and has a head light balance.
Polyester string is the main offender here. It is a very stiff and dead string which most club players will never break. If you have arm problems cut this string out immediately.
Use a multifilament or natural gut string as these are really soft on the arm (they also play really well!). A synthetic gut is also okay, but a multifilament is more arm friendly. Using a thinner gauge (thickness of string) can help. If you are not a string breaker go for the thinnest possible. A 17 gauge isn’t a bad place to start for most players.
Too many players string in the high 50s or 60s which is tougher on the arm. Drop your string tension right down to the low 50s or even 40s as this can help massively. If you are a performance player who still wants to use polyester, a lower tension could help you.
Make sure you have the correct grip size and that you change your grip regularly. See Measure grip size. A soft cushiony or tacky grip can make a big difference and prevent you from gripping too tightly. If your grip is a bit too small – add one overgrip over the original replacement grip (increases grip size by a 1/2) Maybe your grip is one size too small? A UKRSA technician can increase your grip by 1 whole size using a heat shrink sleeve without losing any of the feel of the bevels. Don’t just keep applying loads of grips as it won’t feel nice.
Using the biggest grip size you can handle (sorry) and changing your grips frequently can also stop you gripping too hard.
Old Tennis balls
Old and dead tennis balls can be a real KILLER for your arm. Some of them feel like rocks! make sure to play with new tennis balls whenever you can.
Hopefully the above tips will relieve some of your pain or get you back on the court. Ensure you seek advice from your doctor or physio before playing. You may even be able to hold your pint glass without a grimace after a 5 set thriller!
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