With the US Open upon us, many of us are ready to start gearing up our tennis playing. However, you might ask yourself, are my knees and shoulders up for the challenge? Many of us might be scared of the dreaded rotator cuff injury and fearful of a scenario similar to that of Novak Djokovic prior to winning Wimbledon. Luckily, Djokovic did not tear his rotator cuff and with the right knowledge about the cuff, you can avoid serious injury as well.
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. The muscles are connected to the skeleton by tendons within the shoulder joint which allow us to perform the complex and versatile motions of the human shoulder, like hitting that perfect serve. If one or any number of these tendons is partially or completely torn, our functionality in basic daily activities, as well as in sports, becomes limited. Keeping these parts healthy will help reduce the risk of injury. Prevention is key.
Playing overhead sports such as tennis, basketball and baseball increase your risk of rotator cuff injury. Therefore, stretching pre- and post-activity is a must and continuous range of motion exercises will help to strengthen the cuff off the court. Any sudden stabbing or sharp pain while in motion should be heeded and immediately rested, followed by light stretching. Overuse will increase the risk of injury.
If you are injured, physical therapy is of the utmost importance. Imaging, such as an MRI, may be needed to further diagnose the severity of the injury if there are no improvements with therapy and anti-inflammatory agents. When more severe, partial thickness tears may be treated with a brief trial of steroid injections into the joint, or a platelet rich plasma protein, to help reduce the pain. Both are controversial treatments but are options to be considered. Finally, for full deficits in range of motion, or full thickness tears, surgical repair may be needed.