Tennis and Heel Pain
As one of the few “lifetime sports,” tennis appeals to a wide variety of age groups and skill levels. In fact, more than 1.2 billion people worldwide either occasionally or regularly pick up a racket to play, making it the fourth most popular sport.
While tennis offers a unique and enjoyable physical activity for young and old alike, it also requires special considerations to avoid injury, particularly to the lower extremities like the feet and ankles. Achilles tendonitis, ankle sprains, and plantar fasciitis are a few of the most common causes of foot and heel pain on the court.
How can you stay in the game? Prevention and early intervention are key!
Preventing Heel Injuries in Tennis Athletes
Several key factors contribute to the development of heel pain and foot injuries among tennis athletes. Understanding these risks and taking simple steps to mitigate them can prevent foot injuries from developing:
A game of tennis requires your hands, arms, and feet to repeat the same motions many times as you serve and return the ball. These repetitive motions can wear on the plantar fascia as well as the muscles and ligaments in your feet and heels.
Abrupt changes in intensity or duration:
Tennis can require quick footwork and sudden spurts of intense activity in varying durations. These sudden spurts can take a sharp toll on muscles and ligaments that haven’t been properly stretched or warmed up.
An individual’s unique physical characteristics can play a part in heel pain and tennis. These include an imbalance in strength, flexibility, or muscle tightness in one leg, foot, or ankle.
Tennis court surface:
The hard surface of the tennis court means that your feet and heels absorb more impact as they hit the ground, especially during abrupt movements or intense volleys.
Preventing Heel and Foot Injuries
Taking the time to prevent an injury before it occurs is always the best–and easiest–option. By following these tips, you can head off injuries before they develop.
Some injuries are simply the result of improper play. Take the time to educate yourself about proper form when serving and volleying.
Adequate stretching and warmup:
Setting aside proper time to stretch and warm up your muscles (including the ones in your feet!) can make a big difference in how capable your plantar fascia and other muscles and ligaments are able to perform without damage.
It can be easy to overdo it while playing tennis with friends or as a competition heats up! Listen to your body, and limit the number of sets you play at one time.
Choose your court wisely:
Take care that the tennis court you choose is in good repair, has an even surface, and is free from cracks and debris to decrease your chance of injury.
Proper Tennis footwear:
The right shoes can mean the difference between a satisfying game and an injury. Wear shoes that are light, have thick, cushioned soles, and support the heel well. Orthotic inserts that slip inside your shoes can provide additional cushioning and support for your arch, to prevent plantar fasciitis and heel pain.
Treatment for Tennis Foot Injuries
If you do notice pain in your feet or heel, taking action quickly is critical to healing and avoiding complications. The good news is that the most common conditions resulting from playing tennis–plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and ankle sprains–can be successfully addressed in the comfort of your own home. Alongside recommendations from your doctor, the following at-home remedies can be used to treat strained, inflamed tendons and ligaments in the feet:
Don’t underestimate the power of giving the injury a break. Never “play through the pain,” and take a break from all activities (not just tennis!) that put strain or pressure on the injury.
Icing several times a day can decrease swelling and inflammation, and speed healing.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation as needed.
Foot and Calf Stretches:
Simple stretches, if done regularly, can improve blood flow to the injured area, promote healing, and strengthen the surrounding muscles and ligaments to help prevent re-injury.
Massage both stimulates blood flow to the injured area and reduces pain.
Heel support and cushioning:
It’s difficult to avoid all impact to an injured heel or foot. Making use of orthotic inserts can provide much-needed cushioning and additional support while you heal, and afterward to avoid re-injury.
Don’t let painful injuries keep you from perfecting your backhand. With an ounce of prevention and a good understanding of how to address foot and heel injuries if they should arise, you can play tennis both confidently and safely!
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Originally published August 13, 2015. Updated for accuracy and quality.