Cause and effect of tennis injuries: Injury culture

As far as tennis goes, we all know injuries come with the territory.

Sharapova had shoulder surgery. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Lum)

Sharapova had shoulder surgery. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Lum)

Tennis is a year-round sport. There is no “off season,” and high performance and athletic prowess are not only required for years upon years by the athletes themselves, but also demanded by their fans.

With my personal experience (which, granted has been worst than most) I find the culture surrounding injuries in modern tennis interesting. In a sport that puts the human body under extreme strain, injuries are prevalent, yet the response from the world is usually less than understanding. This is not always the case, but often: If you’re playing injured you’re criticized for mentioning it because it’s seen as creating an excuse for poor performance or loss. If you’re playing injured and don’t mention it, then have a bad performance because of that injury, you’re criticized for playing horrible tennis. If you’re not playing because you’re injured, it’s common to get criticized about whether you’re not being tough enough or why your recovery is taking so long.

There is very little win-win for injured players in this situation, and while there will always be players who milk the system both ways, we have to assume by simple math that most injured players are truly injured. This list of player injuries resulting in retirement from tournaments around the world (Click Here) would indicates that most have to be genuine simply by the sheer number.

list of injured players from February 2013

list of injured players from February 2013

Rafael Nadal is known for speaking out about how hard courts are “too tough” on players’ bodies and believes that “officials should consider reducing the number of tournaments played on hard surfaces in a bid to prolong sports activity on and off court.” Speaking at the Brazil Open in Sao Paulo recently, his second tournament this year following a seven-month absence due to an injury to his left knee, he said he wants to have a functional body to use after his career is over.

CNN released an article (Click Here) actually refuting Rafa’s statement by saying, ”The evidence isn’t there [to prove hard courts alone cause injury], which is surprising [..], but the proper randomized controlled trials simply haven’t been done.”

Rafael Nadal is outspoken about his dislike for hardcourts

Rafael Nadal is outspoken about his dislike for hard courts

Edward Winter from the Center for Sport and Exercise in the UK continued to explain in the CNN report. “Most of the evidence is anecdotal — by that I mean identifying trends of injuries which can be related to surfaces or equipment is difficult to disentangle from individual anecdotes that athletes or others make.” They report that there are many factors in play when it comes to assessing player health, and that while “standards of performance increase, [..] the demands also increase [and there] have been suggestions that this foreshortens people’s careers, but alternatively — and tennis is a good example — you have Masters players continuing to play major competitions well into their 30s, 40s and 50s.”

At 31, Federer is one of the oldest players on the tour. He has been playing professionally for 14 years, since age 17

At 31, Federer is one of the oldest players on the tour. He has been playing professionally for 14 years, since age 17.

I’m torn on the idea. I can’t imagine how running around on concrete-like surfaces for hours a day can be doing the body any good, but I also think that tennis in general is the issue. Hours and hours of training, using our bodies, limbs, muscles and tendons in repetitive and aggressive ways causes excessive amounts of strain on the body. Some people’s frames and joints just can’t keep us with what they try to put themselves through. What do you think?

Are hard courts more damaging to tennis players than other surfaces? Should the ATP and WTA do anything to improve the tours or conditions to increase player’s careers?

Does the culture of injury and sport more often lead us to question an athlete’s integrity rather than just accept their word about an injury?




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