Pertinent Insights On Preventing Injuries On Tennis Court Surfaces

This author provides a guide to preventing unnecessary tennis injuries caused by inappropriate shoe selection on the sport’s three most common surfaces.

The tennis player presents a unique challenge to the podiatric physician and surgeon. For each different playing surface, there are unique shoe gear considerations that one needs to take into account in order to avoid common injuries.

The most common surface in the United States is the hard court, which is a mixture of rubber acrylics, silica, asphalt or concrete and sand.1,2 This mixture induces tremendous amounts of shock to the lower extremities with each limb supporting up to six times the player’s body weight. This produces common complaints such as patellar tendonitis, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and plantar heel bruising.3-4

A rule of thumb on tennis courts is that the harder the surface, the heavier the shoe should be. Most hard court shoes are manufactured at around 14 to 15+ ounces for a size 10.5 shoe. This bulk gives the shoe’s outsole durability and cushioning for hours on unforgiving asphalt or concrete. Those who predominantly play on hard courts should avoid lighter, clay-specific shoes.

What You Should Know About Clay Courts

Clay courts are the second most common court surface for tennis in the United States. They are made of crushed brick (red clay) or a proprietary mixture of natural materials with a chemical binding agent (green clay).1,2 While this surface is much softer and more forgiving on the lower extremity than hard courts, the delicate moisture balance needed to keep clay tennis courts safe can come with its own set of challenges. If the court is too dry, it can induce slipping and sliding, which can cause frequent hamstring and Achilles strains. If the surface is too moist, the tennis shoe can “catch” on the clumps of clay causing ankle sprains.

In regard to these surfaces, I routinely recommend shoes with a herringbone pattern. These shoes are on the lighter end of the spectrum (10 to 13 ounces for a size 10.5 shoe). They are forgiving on wet surfaces but are also able to grip slightly dry surfaces. For patients who slide into their shots, a commonly taught technique on clay surfaces, I place a layer of adhesive felt on the underside of the shoe’s vamp to prevent the forefoot from jamming in the toe box. Such a sliding motion can cause blisters, onychodystrophy, onycholysis, subungual hematoma, turf toe and hallux limitus.

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