By Jared Evans
There are several different types of low back stress fractures that can occur depending on the type of stress applied to the body. The most common cause of these types of injuries in tennis is excessive low back or lumbar extension. This essentially means the lower back is bending back too far. This is compounded by repeated cycles of this motion at high speed, such as in the serving motion.
Preventing Stress Fractures in the Back
It is important to have a proper serve technique in order to avoid this problem, but aside from that, we need to look at what can prevent us from going into this excessive back bending position in the first place. Everyone knows a strong core can save your back but how does this work exactly? Strengthening the midsection/abdominals or “core” helps to maintain a strong neutral position of the spine. This allows for better power transfer from the ground to your arm and to the racket. Strengthen your abs to protect your back, here are two exercises to help.
Building Your Core
Pallof Press– This exercise teaches your body to resist rotational forces but also indirectly helps you resist extension. Put another way, it helps you keep your spine locked in place when you need to. Hold onto a resistance band or cable machine handle that is anchored just below chest height. Stand sideways to where the band or cable is coming from and hold with both hands.
Press your hands straight out in front of you until your arms are fully extended and pause for 1-3 seconds. Return your hands to just in front of your chest that is one repetition. This exercise should be done in a smooth controlled manner to allow you to feel what is happening in your midsection and create more tension in the muscles being worked. Watch out for leaning or rotating any part of your body, you should have a tall neutral posture throughout the exercise. Repeat this exercise for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions facing both directions, each side will feel different!
Plank– The humble plank is a great way to start increasing your abdominal strength. There are many variations and ways to make this exercise easier and harder. For example, if this exercise is too difficult, start by placing your hands on something higher, like a sturdy chair or box. If you want to try something more difficult, hold one foot off the ground at a time. These are just a couple of ideas but the basic plank will serve most people until they can hold a solid plank for more than two minutes.
Place your forearms on the ground and lift yourself up on the toes. If your feet are closer together this will also add slightly to the difficulty. Make sure there isn’t an excessive arch in your lower back, try to tuck your tailbone underneath you to pull your stomach in and flatten your low back. Your hips should remain at the level of your shoulders and make sure your head does not drop towards the floor. It can be useful to place a stopwatch on the floor in front of you to keep track of your time. Start with an amount of time that challenges you but your form remains intact and then rest before your next set. Repeat this hold 2-3 more times and work to increase your plank duration from workout to workout.
Strengthening Your Core to Avoid Injury
Stress fractures in the back, particularly in the lower back, occur by hyperextending the back in a backward direction. This is common while serving a tennis ball, but can also happen in other types of hits and motions while playing tennis. Strengthen your abs with these exercises and work with a personal fitness trainer to build your core and stabilize your upper body.
Putting It All Together
All of the exercises in this Top Tennis Injuries series can be done as one standalone routine or they can be included in your regular workouts. Strive for 2-3 of these corrective workouts per week for best results and you can expect to start seeing improvement in your strength within a few short weeks. Prevent tennis elbow, rotator cuff tears, back stress fractures, and other common tennis injuries and add power to your overall game through fitness training.
If you would like more information on how to strengthen your body, stretch your tight areas, or deal with painful movement, Contact Us for a free fitness assessment.