How to Treat Wrist Injuries from Tennis

by the American Society for Surgery of the Hand

Tennis is a fun sport for many that tests both your hand/eye coordination and your endurance. But for some, tennis can cause pain in the wrist and can even lead to an injury from a hard fall on the court.

Types of Wrist Injuries

Wrist Arthritis

If you’re a regular tennis player and are feeling pain in the wrist (without having experienced an injury), you may be suffering from wrist arthritis. Wrist arthritis is a condition that can develop from wear and tear over time. It may or may not be directly from playing tennis. In wrist arthritis, you are losing cartilage in the wrist between the bones. This results in pain when turning the palm up or down, a typical motion made during tennis. Wrist arthritis can also develop after an injury, such as if you fall onto your wrist while playing. Treating this condition can range from over-the-counter medicines to wearing a splint or even cutting back on activities, like tennis, that make your pain worse. Your doctor may also recommend a cortisone shot or surgery, depending on how severe your case is.

If you’re feeling pain without an injury, you could also be suffering generally from inflammation or irritation of the tendons that bend the wrist.

Sprained Wrist

If you fell on the court or made a sudden, awkward twisting motion at any point while playing tennis, you may have a sprained wrist. Your wrist will likely feel swollen and painful and be hard to move. Sprains can usually be treated with ice and a wrap rather than surgery. Your doctor will ask you to rest the wrist and possibly wear a splint for a matter of weeks.

Wrist Fracture

While a sprained wrist is a partial injury to a ligament, a wrist fracture (which is another name for a broken wrist) is an actual break to a bone. An injury this severe can happen from a bad fall on the tennis court, especially, for example, if you are diving for the ball and land hard and awkwardly on the wrist. Your symptoms will be similar to a sprained wrist, including pain and swelling. To treat a wrist fracture, your doctor may put you in a splint or cast, and you may need surgery.

Treating General Wrist Pain

If you have not been diagnosed with a specific wrist condition or injury, your doctor may make recommendations for dealing with your wrist pain.  It could include a splint, hand therapy, medication and/or cortisone shots. He/she may also recommend that you cut back on activities that increase your pain, such as playing tennis. There may also be ways to modify how you play tennis in order to improve your pain. This could include changing your grip or swing. Your doctor or tennis coach may have recommendations.

Other Injuries in Tennis

You may be suffering from another upper extremity condition caused by the repetitive motions of playing tennis. Some examples include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Carpal tunnel can be caused by a lot of things, including repetitive motions that include forceful gripping. It may cause you to feel numbness or tingling in the hand, a weak grip or overall discomfort in the hand/fingers. To treat carpal tunnel, your doctor may recommend medicine, a cortisone shot, a splint or surgery.
  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis): The elbow is another area of the body that can be affected by tennis. Lateral epicondylitis is sometimes referred to as “tennis elbow” because it can be common in people who play tennis. It’s a condition that can be painful when you use the muscles in your elbow and are using a tight grip, such as on your tennis racquet. Just like carpal tunnel, it can be caused by repetitive motions. Sometimes, tennis elbow can be treated with things like activity modification, medication or physical therapy.

Treating wrist injuries from tennis depends on your specific situation, including your history, lifestyle, age and other deciding factors. A hand surgeon is the best individual to help you determine the best treatment option for you, whether it’s surgery or something non-surgical. Hand surgeons can treat the hand, wrist, elbow and sometimes the shoulder as well. Visiting a hand surgeon as soon as possible after your wrist injury is key to a good recovery. Waiting too long to visit a specialist can sometimes result in permanent damage to your wrist or hand.

To find a board-certified hand surgeon in your area, visit www.findahandsurgeon.com from the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.

The American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) is the oldest and most prestigious medical society dedicated to the hand and upper extremity. The mission of ASSH is to advance the science and practice of hand and upper extremity surgery through education, research and advocacy on behalf of patients and practitioners.

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