Health pros and cons of tennis and how to look after your body

Man playing tennis. (Getty Images)
Use these tips from a doctor and physio to make tennis work for you. (Getty Images)

Wimbledon piqued your interest in tennis? Or long been wanting to get into it but haven't been sure if it's right for you?

It's true that tennis can be very physically demanding on your body, but that doesn't mean you should write it off (unless you have a medical reason to). Instead, knowledge is power and it's all about playing in a way that will reduce your chance of injury and allow you to have the most fun with it.

Here, physiotherapist Clara Kervyn and GP Dr Gill Jenkins, both from joint and muscle care specialists Deep Heat and Deep Freeze, share the health pros and cons of tennis to be aware of, and the best way to take it up as a beginner (or continue to play) safely.

Sporty young woman holding her elbow in pain while playing tennis on a tennis court.
There's ways to help prevent the famous 'tennis elbow'. (Getty Images)

"Tennis is an amazing sport as it requires the use of your entire body. But depending on multiple factors, it could put strain on certain parts, most often affecting wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and feet," says Kervyn.

Here, the physiotherapist goes into more detail on the potential effect on each body part...

  • "Shoulders could be susceptible to cartilage tears or tendons could get damaged due to repetitive motions, force generation and absorption from the shoulder during swings or volleys, from the power in services or smashes, from intense gripping and especially when reaching for a long ball and you need to do a forehand or backhand at the end range of your shoulder.

  • "Tennis elbow is pain in the outer part of the elbow due to overuse or chronic inflammation in the tendons originating in the elbow. This could be caused by repetitive motion and the intensity and frequency one plays.

  • "You could injure your wrist from overuse of the tennis racket causing, for example, carpal tunnel syndrome where a nerve in your wrist gets pinched and squeezed leading to numbness and tingling.

  • "Knees and feet could be at risk of injuries due to constant change of direction, pivoting whilst generating power when playing a shot, deceleration and acceleration with running to a shot, jumping and landing when playing a serve or playing at the net."

Female friends, tennis players, at the clay tennis court
Tennis has a plethora of mental and physical health benefits. (Getty Images)

Dr Jenkins says the "many health benefits" of playing tennis include...

  • "Being great for increasing aerobic fitness, increasing heart rate and oxygen use when playing, but reducing resting heart rate and blood pressure overall.

  • "Aerobic fitness also improves metabolic function and helps to control insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels.

  • "It improves muscle tone and strength due to use of every muscle in the body.

  • "Increases bone density as it is weight bearing on the body, and lowers body fat."

  • "Improves reaction times due to the need to concentrate.

  • "Helps to keep a range of motion in your arms and shoulders.

  • "Is great for social interaction."

men warming up on sports pitch
Warming up and cooling down goes a long way. (Getty Images)

Now you know what to be aware of, you can start playing in a way that hopefully brings more of the benefits, and less of the risks.

"As with any exercise, start gently, always warm up first, and try using some Deep Heat. Warm up exercises can include a walk or jogging gently on the spot, skipping, side steps, body weight movements, and research just published by Deep Heat also recommends shoulder rolls and knee lifts," says Dr Jenkins.

"Don’t forget to cool down after a game too, and calf and hamstring stretches are a good idea," adds Kervyn, who also advocates for cooling therapies. "This decreases blood flow and helps calm minor aches in muscles and joints that could hamper movement."

For some perspective, Dr Jenkins adds, "Professional tennis players concentrate on hydration so that urine runs clear, warming up and cooling down, stretching and strength training on a daily basis."

The doctor cautions against playing tennis if you have sustained an injury. "Rest an injured wrist, for example, for a few days until the discomfort has gone," she recommends, as well as cooling therapies within the first 72 hours after an injury and warming topical therapies post 72 hours for soothing aches and ongoing muscle rehab.

"Also check with your doctor if you are unsure about your fitness or have heart disease. But basically, start playing tennis slowly. It is very good for your health."

Watch: Wimbledon day four highlights