Note: For the fifth year in a row, I am serving as Chief Tournament Physician of the Family Circle Cup. Each day of the tournament, I am writing an article for The Post and Courier and Family Circle Cup.
If you’ve been watching the matches at the Family Circle Cup this week and struggling to keep your hat on in these strong winds, imagine trying to return a serve from a top pro. The last few days have seen winds consistently exceeding 20 mph, which has made play challenging for players. What is probably less known is that high winds increase the chances of players getting injured or developing pain.
I discussed the conditions at the Family Circle Tennis Center stadium and the risk of injury with Michael J. Barr, PT, DPT, MSR, a physical therapist and the sports medicine coordinator for MUSC Sports Medicine. He said that one obvious reason athletes often complain of more shoulder pain playing in windy conditions is the increased force required to hit shots into the wind. If a player is having to swing harder with each shot, and she has to exert this increased force several hundred times in a match, she is likely to have a sore shoulder.
Unfortunately, simply swinging harder is not the only risk. The wind affects the trajectory of the shots. Trying to predict where the ball will land is challenging to say the least. Players will have to reach further for shots that don’t land where they expect. “Reaching for more balls puts the shoulder and elbow in a bad position, with an increased lever arm on the upper extremity, and putting more strain on the shoulder and upper arm,” Barr explains.
The player’s footwork also plays a role. With shots changing direction, their foot placement is often not ideal. “Normally the players set their feet and use their lower extremities for strength. If they can’t get their feet set correctly, they can’t use the power in their legs as well, and they rely on their shoulders and arms more,” he points out.
Finally, knee and ankle injuries potentially occur more often. A player could be expecting a ball to come to a certain location, but when the wind moves it, she would have to change direction suddenly. These quick changes of direction could lead to ankle sprains and twisting knee injuries.
Hopefully the high winds are gone for the rest of the tournament. Just keep in mind that they weren’t just a problem for spectators.
Read my daily posts from the 2011 Family Circle Cup!
Day 1: Tennis players among world’s elite athletes
Day 2: Do our clay courts decrease injuries?
Day 3: What’s on the menu for pro tennis players?
Day 4: Best Tennis Town in America
Day 6: Is kinesio taping hype or helpful?
Day 7: The sun can be dangerous for tennis players
Athletes must take meds, supplements with caution
Day 9: Medical aspects of professional tennis