Most of us have experienced it at some point or another. That dull thud in your elbow that develops to a sharp devastating pain within a week’s time. While it can be annoying to not be able to play due to the pain of tennis elbow, for many it can actually start to affect their day to day lives.
It’s true that tennis elbow is often caused by over working the arm from too many hours on the court and can be solved by taking some time off. But for those who return to the court with no end in sight, here are a few gear fixes that you should consider.
There are a lot of reasons to restring your racquet besides when the strings break. The USRSA currently suggests restringing your racquet the same number of times in a year as you play tennis in a week. The reason for this is that even if strings are not played with, they are still losing tension and elasticity, which directly affects their ability to absorb harmful vibrations. Getting your racquet restrung frequently can help reduce those vibrations and increase its overall playability.
However, make sure to ask for the right things when going in to get your racquet restrung. Here are a few things to go by specifically to help with tennis elbow:
Looser tension– Try taking the tension down a few pounds towards the lower end of your racquet’s tension range. This is going to allow the racquet to do a little more of the work and take the pressure off of your arm. You can increase the tension as your arm begins to recover.
Multifilament or Natural Gut Strings– These strings are going to offer more elasticity than regular synthetics which means less shock and stress on your arm. They are also great strings for feel and power which is always a bonus for those areas of your game.
Thin Gauge Strings– Be sure to ask for a 17 gauge or thinner string. While a thicker gauge string offers better durability, the #1 concern is the health of your arm and a thinner gauge is going to offer more protection and better playability.
A NOTE TO LUXILON / Babolat RPM / POLYESTER USERS:
Tennis Elbow has increased over the past few years especially in younger tournament level players. A big reason for this is the introduction of stiffer polyester strings like Luxilon and Babolat RPM. Realize that this means you can use these strings without getting tennis elbow, but you are going to have to change some things in order to avoid it. These strings are not the same as regular synthetic gut strings; they are significantly stiffer and should be strung at a looser tension. Make sure to lower the tension at least 10% if not more. Also, polyester strings have significantly less tension maintenance which means they lose tension a lot faster. When the strings begin to feel dead make sure you cut them out and get them restrung. If this is too expensive, you need to find a more cost effective option rather than trying to bite the bullet to save a couple bucks.
#2 New Grip / Grip size
There are a lot of us out there who are playing with a grip that is several months or years old and continue to put on overgrips or play with it until it disintegrates in our hands. While this is very unappealing to the people you have to shake hands with after the match, it is also affecting the playability of the racquet and could be increasing the pain in your elbow.
The original grip, or replacement grip, is the first line of support between your hand and the base of the racquet. Over time this grip flattens out from the pressure and sweat of your hand. Replacing this helps regain the comfort and support your hand needs to help absorb the shock of impact from the ball as it travels down toward your arm.
Heat Shrink Wraps
Besides replacing the grip you can also increase its size. While it is possible to do this with the use of additional over grips, this ruins the bevels of the grip, rounding the grip out so you can’t tell what position you’re holding the racquet.
The best way to increase grip size is with a heat shrink wrap. This increases the grip one full size. By increasing the grip size, you effectively reduce the amount of twisting that puts torque on your arm during off center or powerful hits.
#3 New Racquet
I know, I know. You’ve had that racquet since you were 15 and there’s nothing else out there that plays like it. That, or you just bought this one last year and you couldn’t possibly buy a new one. You’re probably right on both counts; there is no racquet out there just like the one you have and it isn’t cost efficient for you to purchase a new racquet. But if you have already tried both new strings and changing the grip, then this is one of the last and most effective solutions you have left. And while a new racquet can be a scary thing for some, getting one that helps relieve your pain as well as improve your game is certainly a win/win from my standpoint.
Here are a few things to take into account when looking for a new frame specifically to help relieve tennis elbow.
For the most part I have stayed away from mentioning specific companies in the strings or grips sections but for racquets there are certain companies that have created technologies to help decrease the causes of tennis elbow.
For the past several years Volkl has evolved in the US tennis market as a huge player competing with the likes of Wilson, Head, and Babolat. This is largely due to their racquets having the ability to help tennis elbow in players where others have failed. Volkl handles have a technology called Biosensor which helps filter out unwanted vibrations before they reach your hand. Also, their new Organix racquets offer extremely flexible but still powerful racquets to keep you from sacrificing any part of your game. For anyone who is seeking a new racquet in hopes of helping their tennis elbow, Volkl is definitely my first recommendation.
Volkl demos aren’t available everywhere in the United States, so for those of us who don’t have access to them Prince is also a great option. Prince has recently come out with their new Exo3 and ESP technologies. Exo3 technology pertains to the large holes that you see around Prince Racquets. These holes increase the length of string which allows their frames to have a larger sweet spot than other similar sized racquets. A larger sweet spot means reduced shock on off center hits. Prince’s new ESP technology removes strings from the racquet allowing for more spin and less string bed stiffness making the frames more powerful as well as having more access to spin. This means less work for you and your arm.
Lighter Isn’t Better
There seems to be a large section of the tennis community that wants to buy the lightest racquet possible. The rationale is that the lighter the racquet, the faster the swing, and the harder you can hit the ball. This is not correct. Picture a car traveling towards you. You have to make a head on impact with this car. Would you rather hit it traveling on a motorcycle at 100 mph or a Semi truck at 50 miles per hour? While this is a little exaggerated, when you have a racquet that is too light, although you can swing faster, you are not generating enough momentum (Mass x Velocity) in order to transfer all of the energy to the ball. Instead, much of the energy is absorbed by the racquet, and this energy needs to find somewhere to go, which in this case happens to be your arm.
Physics lesson over. Summary: purchase the heaviest racquet with which you can comfortably play.
If All Else Fails – Bauerfeind
There are times when equipment isn’t the problem. Often there is something in your technique that is causing the pain. If you’ve already talked to a pro and can’t seem to find a solution, there is always the option for an elbow brace. I’ve tried a lot of different companies but at the end of the day the only one I can absolutely recommend is Bauerfeind.
Bauerfeind is a German company that was previously only available through a clinical visit, but has recently been released to the retail market. They offer two elbow braces; the EpiPoint and the EpiTrain. The EpiPoint is specifically targeted toward tennis elbow. The band is made so that it actually expands with the flexing of your arm and does not cut off circulation like other similar products that are also one size fits all. The EpiTrain comes in different sizes and is designed to comfort and support all elbow pain from serious tennis elbow to arthritis.
Best of Luck!
Be sure to check out Ian’s videos on tennis elbow treatment here.
These are the main gear fixes available for any player. For any extremely serious elbow pain be sure to consult a doctor to see if you should continue to play without making things worse. If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment!