Knee Injury : Tennis Injuries

The knee bone mechanism that allows us to move and bend our legs for walking and running is comprised of the kneecap (patella), thigh (femur), shin (tibia) and strut or head fibula bones. When the quadriceps muscles in the above portion of the leg contract, the knee is able to extend from the front of the thigh while the hamstring muscles bend the knee from the back of the thigh. Tendons attach these muscles to the tibia and knee joint, and four ligaments stabilize the knee joint to allow for regulated muscle movement. Two menisci shock-absorbing cartilages on the tibia prevent the femur and tibia bones from chaffing. The knee is also protected by fluid sacs called bursa that cushion the parts of the knee during exercise, such as playing tennis. Any of these knee parts can become injured (fractured, torn, dislocated, strained, inflamed) when on the tennis court for different reasons.

Symptoms of Knee Injury

Knee injuries can arise while competing in tennis when the bone, muscles, tendons, cartilages, or nerves in that area are traumatised. When a sudden pain with grinding is experienced while ascending stairs to the tennis court for example, this may be injury to the menisci cartilages, but if the pain occurs on descending the stairs, then it could be damage to the knee cap patella. Or, if the patella shifts to the outside of the knee, the knee joint may be dislocated.

Sometimes the knee joint locks in position on court stopping movement of the leg, and this is due to torn cartilages. If during a game, your leg suddenly feels unstable with a burning sensation, the ligament may be torn. However, pain and swelling due to inflammation of the ligament or tendon tissues in the knee may occur gradually after a long match or repetitive tennis games. If immediate striking pain is felt with a fall to the ground that makes it impossible to walk, and part of the knee bulges with swelling and bruising, then you may have fractured or broken a bone in your knee.

Causes of Knee Injury

Causes of knee injuries during tennis may be from wearing the wrong sports shoes, causing a higher likelihood of falling and damaging the knee cap or cartilages. Tennis players often twist quickly to slam a ball back to their opponent, and this twisting of the knee can cause the cartilages to tear. Continual jerking from side to side in an attempt to strike oncoming shots can also stress the knee joint and ligaments, and tendons, resulting in either overuse or tears to the ligament or tendons.

Medical Treatment of Knee Injury

A medical doctor has to conduct a physical examination of your knee involving palpation and stress-tests to see the extent of the injury and source of pain. Your physician will also test the nerve and blood supply to the legs. In severe or uncertain cases, your physician may refer you for an X-ray to check for broken bones or for an MRI scan to identify what areas of the knee are hurt. Using the PRICE protocol to protect the injured knee is always the first recommendation: protect the knee by stopping exercise, rest the knee and apply ice to the injury, use a compression to support the knee, and elevate the knee to keep the swelling down and to allow blood flow through the knee. Your doctor may refer you for physical therapy or surgery if required.

Preventing Knee Injury

Actively warming up the quadriceps and hamstring muscles before playing tennis can reduce muscle, ligament and tendon tearing. Strengthening these muscles through professionally supervised exercise routines can be effective in preventing injury too. Following the tips provided by your sports coach or physiotherapist can help you learn how to move in a gentler fashion to avoid sudden twists and jerks that can traumatise the knee joint. Wearing shoes made specifically for tennis players, being aware of obstacles and where you place your feet on and off court should be considered to prevent falls and injury to the knee. Taking appropriate rests during and after the tennis match, or your weekly tennis playing routine, can reduce long-term damage to the knee caused by repetitive strain.

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