As the world battles the Covid-19 Pandemic and the quarantine and self-isolation that follows, we’ve got a choice of how to spend our abundance of alone time. Hopefully your physical activity hasn’t been limited to traipsing back and forth to the fridge in between episodes of the Tiger King. Social media has been flooded with all types of creative at-home workout ideas. General fitness and physical activity is essential at a time like this, but it’s also a great opportunity to rehabilitate any lingering injuries or pre-habilitate by addressing structural imbalances.
Like many tennis players, I’ve struggled with shoulder injuries throughout my life. My shoulder issues mostly stem from repetitive overhead serving. The overhead service motion is not a natural motion. It’s especially unnatural to repeat this movement thousands upon thousands of times. At minimum, repetitive overhead serving can lead to an unstable, achy, or sore shoulder. In the event of a more serious injury, tennis players can miss weeks or months of practice and play. More serious injuries like rotator cuff tendinitis, shoulder impingement, labral tears, or rotator cuff tears require extensive physical therapy or possibly even surgery.
I’ve been able to manage my maladies using many aspects of the program below. It’s ideal to pre-habilitate before it ever becomes an issue—most shoulder injuries can be prevented with a proper injury prevention program in place. Here’s how you can Save Your Shoulder with Six Self-Care Strategies:
STRENGTHEN YOUR INTERNAL & EXTERNAL ROTATORS
The shoulder’s internal rotators help accelerate the racquet head on the serve, and external rotators help decelerate it. To maintain a healthy shoulder, specific exercises need to be performed to target the muscles of the rotator cuff. Here are two exercises that target those muscles:
INCREASE YOUR SHOULDER’S INTERNAL ROTATION
Due to their role in accelerating the racquet head on the serve, a tennis player’s internal rotators are typically stronger—and tighter—than their antagonists. It’s important to maintain a healthy range of motion by stretching the internal rotators. Keeping the internal rotators loose will help prevent common injuries like impingement or tendinitis. Here’s a short video that helps improve internal rotation flexibility:
MOBILIZE YOUR SCAPULA
A healthy, stable shoulder should have a 2:1 ratio of humerus to scapula movement. If the scapula lacks mobility, this will put unnecessary strain on the rotator cuff. Improving the strength of the muscles that move the shoulder blade can help mobilize it. Here are four exercises that help improve scapular mobility:
STRETCH YOUR CHEST
Pec major and minor are primary movers on the serve, forehand, and forehand volley. Gravity doesn’t help much either—as it is constantly pulling our shoulders forward and down. The compounding effect of tennis and gravity leads to rounded shoulder posture for many tennis players. Improper posture will strain the tendons and ligaments of the shoulder. Below is an illustration of how to stretch out your chest:
STRENGTHEN YOUR POSTERIOR CHAIN
Back muscles are notoriously neglected across all populations because they aren’t the muscles we see in the mirror. Stretching the muscles of the anterior chain can help correct postural imbalances, but to maintain this posture, one must strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain. Lats, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids all need to be targeted with a strength training program. Due to left-right imbalances found in tennis players, you’ll benefit from performing exercises unilaterally when possible. Here’s a list of three essential exercises for your posterior chain:
Spare the oils and candles—but a little ambient music is OK—if you’re into that kinda thing.
The self-massage business is booming—you can find all types of gadgets and gizmos for sale online. All of these different products are designed to accomplish the same goal: to loosen up the body’s fascia. Fascia is the thin connective tissue that covers all the muscles of the body. With activity, this connective tissue can get tight and increase pressure on joints. Myofascial release is most helpful after a practice or workout to help aid in recovery.
Here’s a great video tutorial of how to use a lacrosse ball to help release the fascia surrounding the shoulder:
I hope these strategies help to keep those shoulders healthy for when we can all get back to playing the sport that we love. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Stay healthy, my friends.