Tennis players rely on quick reflexes and controlled swings.
So, when Caroline Wozniacki, tennis star and winner of the 2018 Australian Open, faced severe joint pain, she knew she had to see a doctor immediately.
She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints. Athletes can recover from most injuries, but Wozniacki knew this would be an ongoing battle.
Chronic joint pain doesn’t have to be the end of the road for an athlete. Knowing the common causes, symptoms, and treatments of tennis hand pain can get you back on the court in no time.
What Causes Hand Pain in Tennis Players?
Though tennis players need to be agile, the game is primarily played with the hand and wrist. This makes the game stressful on the wrist joint.
1. Shock Absorption
The fastest tennis serves exceed 125 miles per hour. The player returning a serve absorbs kinetic energy through the racket and the wrist. To achieve and return these speeds, rackets have become heavier. Over time, weight and shock absorption causes the wrist joint to wear and tear.
A tennis player’s grip can also cause chronic joint pain. Grips fall into two categories: backhand and forehand.
The backhand grip is harder to master and is more likely to be misused, resulting in damage. Favoring a forehand grip leaves one side of the body underdeveloped and unequipped to absorb high amounts of shock when using a backhand.
However, repeated use of the forehand grip also causes joint strain. When using the forehand, players use the maximum extension of their muscles and ligaments. Hitting a ball with force under high tension repeatedly can cause hand and wrist pain.
3. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Unlike common injuries, tennis hand pain resulting from RA is not caused by the game itself.
RA, an autoimmune disease, causes the body’s immune system to attack its own cells, namely those lining the joints. This results in pain, swelling, and inflammation.
Though the exact cause of RA is unknown, researchers believe the condition is linked to genetics, hormones, and the environment. For those with RA, flareups can be triggered by stress, lack of sleep, and overexertion, all of which may have caused the sudden pain for Wozniacki.
Symptoms of Joint and Tennis Hand Pain
The most common symptoms of tennis hand pain include swelling and tenderness. Others may also experience:
- A clicking or popping of the joint
- Pain increases with movement
Most wrist and hand injuries display similar symptoms, so it’s best to visit a doctor to determine the cause. Wozniacki reported knee pain, stiffness in her arms, and debilitating fatigue, all signs of RA. People with RA may also experience the following:
- A warm, heated feeling in joints
- Pressure in the joints
- Weight loss
How to Treat and Prevent Hand and Joint Pain
Hand pain is often easy to treat, and players can return to the court in no time.
1. Treating Hand and Joint Pain
Mild hand and joint injuries can be cared for at home with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Ibuprofen and other over-the-counter medications can be used to alleviate pain. The hand should be immobilized with a brace.
Surgery is necessary for severe injuries, such as torn ligaments, tendons, or fractures.
2. Treating RA
Though RA can’t be cured, it can be treated through the following:
- Medications: Oral medications reduce inflammation and pain. Infusion medicines can be administered to suppress the immune system and treat the underlying cause.
- Physical therapy: Though RA causes discomfort during joint use, physical therapy helps slow the progression of the disease and improves joint health.
- Lifestyle changes: Lifestyle directly affects the severity of RA. Exercising, limiting alcohol consumption, and eating a balanced diet can improve symptoms of RA.
3. Preventing Tennis Hand Pain
Strengthening and conditioning both hands and wrists to meet the demands of tennis is the best way to prevent injury.
Wrist-strengthening exercises include:
- Weighted static holds
- Wrist flexor muscles
- Wrist extensor muscles
- Ulnar/radial deviation and pro/supination
Treat Your Tennis Hand Pain Today
Rapid assessment and treatment for chronic joint pain are paramount when you’re an athlete.
Southwest Florida Rheumatology has been diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal diseases, like RA, since 2010. Our state-of-the-art facilities are equipped for infusion treatments, ultrasounds, and lifestyle medicine.
Appointments are available at our three locations: Riverview, Sun City, and Wesley Chapel.
Ease your pain and get back on the court. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.