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Modifying Your Strokes to Prevent Tennis Elbow

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Updated March 19, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Tennis elbow keeps millions of players from enjoying tennis as much as they could, and you see a lot of elbow braces on players who are struggling to keep playing despite their sore elbows. You've probably noticed that many of those players with elbow braces have less than formful strokes, but you'll also see some very nice strokes executed with an elbow-braced arm, most likely by players who have chosen the wrong equipment or stressed their elbows in off-court activities. In Tennis Elbow, we learned how to recognize tennis elbow and surveyed how it can be prevented, including better choices in equipment and workplace habits. Here, we will discuss how to modify your strokes to help prevent tennis elbow or keep playing while giving your elbow a rest.

Using your legs: Although your arm is the single most important part of your body in hitting the ball, the more the rest of your body contributes, the better you're likely to hit and the less strain your arm will feel. Particularly important is getting the big muscles of your legs to push forward on all driving strokes and upward on all topspin strokes.

Meeting the ball in front: If you meet the ball well in front of yourself, you're much more likely to have your weight going forward as you hit, and the contribution from your body weight and leg thrust will reduce the demand on your arm. You will also be much less likely to lead with your elbow on your one-handed backhand.

Avoiding leading with your elbow: Most tennis players know you shouldn't "lead with your elbow" on one-handed backhands, but many aren't entirely sure what that means. To get a clear picture of it, hold an imaginary racquet, bend your arm sharply at the elbow, point your elbow at an imaginary net, and then straighten your arm so that your fist points at the net. You've just simulated an extreme version of leading with the elbow. While few players would lead with the elbow that obviously, many hit one-handed backhands with enough of that forward chopping motion to damage their elbows. To avoid leading with your elbow, make sure to generate your one-handed backhand swing with your shoulder and upper arm, not your elbow and forearm, and get a strong forward push from your legs to take some of the workload off your arm altogether.

Seeing the ball well and keeping your head still: Meeting the ball on your racquet's centerline greatly reduces the strain on your elbow, because it prevents torsion. Along the centerline, there's also a point of least shock, called the center of percussion. No one can meet the ball perfectly every time, but you might be able to greatly improve your contact with the ball by trying to see the ball get hit and by keeping your eyes on the point of contact for half a second after impact. In addition to enhancing your hand-eye coordination, this will keep your head still, which will help keep you from pulling away from the point of contact.

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