The summer holidays are a hive of outdoor sporting camps of which tennis is hugely popular. While our kids aim to perfect the serve of Serena Williams, the forehand of Maria Sharapova or Novak Djokovic, or chase down the ball with the ferocity of Rafael Nadal, parents and coaches need to be mindful of the injury pitfalls that interrupt these summer holiday passions. Within the confines of the sports medicine clinics I attend, we are already seeing tennis related injuries despite the fact the season is yet to get into full swing.
Injury to the lower extremity is the prominent part of the body that gets injured and is particularly relevant to the growing body. Aside from ensuring the body is conditioned for tennis and not over-training, footwear selection is critical. Recent research shows the load forces of a tennis shoe can approach 1000N of force (J. Sports Engineering 2013) or x4 to x5 times your body weight.
Thus as a direct consequence of inappropriate footwear on hard surfaces an increase in loading forces will be associated with the more common injuries (Severs Syndrome, arch pain, Achilles tendinopathy, shin splints and stress fractures).
All of these injuries are overuse in nature and due to the inability of the muscles, tendons and bone to recover from the repetitive forces. They can result in time off the court from 4 to 10 weeks depending upon severity. At the moment in our clinics, we are seeing stress fractures with 20% of junior players suffering from stress fractures as compared to just 7.5% of professional players.
Growth plate injuries (especially the heel known as Severs Syndrome) and shin splints are most common. The mechanism of these injuries are the constant stopping and starting, accelerating and decelerating at high speeds and then coming to a sudden stop. Your feet, ankles, shins, calves and knees absorb this force and the tissue simply cannot cope with the demand of the variety of tennis surfaces (grass, clay, synthetic).
I’ve covered why tennis can be a dangerous sport in greater detail here, but I’ll focus this article on one of my most passionate subjects – athletic shoes, which are often to blame for common tennis injuries in kids.
As a podiatrist, I see all types of injuries. Some of them are due to congenital issues such as having arches that are “too high” or “too flat”; but others are related to a poor choice in athletic shoes. It is this last category that I feel is poorly understood. Exercise shoes in the 21st century are highly sophisticated with a variety of foams and cushioning technologies, technologies to support the foot and help with running styles.
So in essence there is a shoe out there for every foot shape and type. In fact, one of the reasons why I created Shoe Buddy was to make professional and independent advice about shoes accessible to everyone; to take the guessing out of purchasing the right athletic shoes. And we have a section dedicated to children’s shoes since they require specialised attention.
First, proper footwear selection starts with getting an understanding of a child’s foot shape, body type, running mechanics and level of comfort on the type of court surface. Shoe Buddy can help you pull together this analysis if you need help.
Second, once you understand these factors, it’s easy to select shoes that will help avoid injury. Let’s be clear, correct shoes will help minimise injury, improve comfort and enhance performance (scientifically proven). If you do not have the right gear on your feet you increase the likelihood of being injured by 70% (series of studies conducted by me and internationally published between 2011-2013).
To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s an example of one of my shoe reviews – a popular tennis shoe on the market for kids. Note that this review is my own and custom fit to Shoe Buddy users based on the individual details they submitted to Shoe Buddy.
“All the demands of the court are taken care of with this offering from Brooks. It is a robust shoe with a dual density medial post that protects the unstable flatter foot. The reinforced outsole and protected toe-guard ensures shoe longevity….”
Last, make sure to change out shoes regularly. You’ll want to watch out for shoe fatigue that is often dependent on the frequency of training.
The other consideration is that our kids feet are growing all the time.
They will forget to complain (they’re quite tolerant) so its up to us as parents to monitor when shoes have been outgrown.
Following this advice should really help prevent against lower limb injury while on the court – and keep our kids performing their best.