John McDermott, M.Ed, F.A.F.S.
When preparing to play the game of tennis, we must handle the compensations for the task at hand prior to ever hitting the ball. These compensations happen at the shoulder, elbow and wrist/hand as I have many clients that come into to me complaining of bursitis, tendonitis and even carpal tunnel just from performing and activity that supposed to make them healthier! Other areas of compensation are the hips, knees and even the big toe.
We will start looking at what we can do prior to playing as well as first thing each day to help us better prepare for this chaotic challenge to the body.
Shoulders: Perform a series of controlled arm swings in a circular motion while keeping the shoulder down (shoulder packed position). This allows you to break up any adhesions that may have formed there and brings blood and nutrition to the area to warm up the joint. Do these straight, across the body and behind the body ( 10 repetitions) to cover all planes of motion. If you find it is difficult keeping the shoulder down, shave off the range of motion and only go as far as you can successfully pack this shoulder. If the shoulder loses contact with the upper arm bone (humerous) while hitting, the force will transfer down the arm resulting in some of the conditions commonly seen with this sport activity.
Elbow: Next we will move down to the elbow. Always do shoulder first, then elbow, then wrist. Proper sequence is important. Start by keeping the upper arm parallel to the ground, point the thumb toward the nose. Rotate the thumb out as much as you can comfortably as you extend the arm forward. You may hear and feel some pops and cracks. This is perfectly fine as long as the pain is not severe (3 on a scale of 1-10, 10 being severe). It’s important to move through a full range of extension available. Once you reach the end range, turn the thumb over and rotate back in. Continue this for 10 repetitions slow and controlled.
Wrist/fingers: Wrist flexion/extension is the first motion to be performed. Hold your arm parallel to the ground and using your wrist as a driver (initiator), pull up as far as you can comfortably and then drive down in the same fashion. If you want to do these while holding your racket that’s fine. Perform 10 repetitions before turning your thumb up and positioning for the next movement which is lateral deviations. Lateral deviations are performed by once again directing the space in your hand where the thumb ends and the wrist begins up toward the sky. Drive down by bringing those areas closer together. Lateral deviations is considered the forgotten motion in the wrist, especially in the day and age of the cell phone/texting craze. Loss of this motion at the wrist will cause excessive lateral motion at the elbow, resulting in lateral epicondilitis or it’s better marketed name, Tennis Elbow!!
Hips/trunk/feet: The last warm-up we will discuss will emphasize the lower body and core. Position yourself facing the fence with your arms above your head (on the fence) as high as is comfortable (this activates the core). Place one foot in front of the other. Lift the front knee until it is parallel to the ground. Using the front knee as a driver, begin to move it toward the fence for 5 repetitions while bending the back knee simultaneously. On the 5th repetition, stop a few inches from the fence and hold. Begin sliding the knee side to side keeping the same distance from the fence (note the motion you are getting in the opposite hip). On the 5th repetition in this direction hold in the center and begin to rotate the knee outward and then all the way across to the other side (again note the movement on the opposite hip). Repeat this on the opposite leg, and then repeat the entire sequence with the back leg straight.
Now you’re ready for bed, uh, I mean tennis! This sequence of warm-up exercises should be done in the order I listed them here. In function we call this a top down strategy because we are starting from the top of the head and working our way down. Good luck and have fun!