If so you need to read this…
I have now worked in gyms within tennis clubs for over 10 years, and in this time there is one injury story that I have heard time and time again. It usually goes something along the lines of:
“I was running to get a drop shot when I suddenly felt like I had been hit on the back of my leg by something.”
They often say they look around to see if someone had hit them with a ball or shot something at them. Every time that is game over for them and often weeks or months on the sideline.
This injury is known as tennis leg. I have noticed that it seems to be women in their 30’s to 60’s that is happening the most.
I thought I would do some reading into this and check if my theory was correct. So it turns out I was half right, the research shows that calf tears in tennis are most common in the age range of 40-55 but studies show it is higher in men.
I would argue that these figures are skewed by the number of men playing and the fact that the majority of studies carried out are usually on males.
In my unofficial research in the two clubs I would say that the occurrence of this type of injury is higher in women (however as I write this I have just thought that my numbers may be skewed also, as we have a higher percentage of women using our services).
Anyway this is just a minor detail, the facts seem to be clear that your chances of getting a grade 1-3 calf tear are much higher as we get older (by the way this does not exclusively apply to tennis, it will be the same in any sport that involves bursts of acceleration and deceleration).
The calf muscles are made of two muscles. The gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the bigger bulky muscle that most people think of when they think of their calf muscles. The soleus is the thinner muscle that sits below the gastrocnemius and above the achilles. The gastrocnemius is the more common muscle to be strained.
Increased risk factors for Calf injury over 40 years old
As we age often we lose muscle strength and in particular we lose type 2 muscle fibers. These are the fast twitch fibers which are used in explosive movements such as sprinting, jumping or changing direction. So it makes sense that if these muscle fibers are reducing our likelihood for muscles breaking down is increased as the loads out weights the muscles capabilities.
Another contributing factor could be that our collagen levels in the body decrease as we age. These collagen fibers keep your musculoskeletal system flexible. A decline in collagen levels can cause ligaments, tendons and bones to become less flexible and more brittle over time.
If the environment you are playing in is cold it will cause your blood vessels to constrict, reducing the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach the muscles. This can lead to a decrease in muscle performance and strength as well as increased fatigue.
Also not warming the muscles up properly prior to doing close to max effort activities such as sprinting or jumping can lead to an increased injury risk. Cold muscles can simply mean you haven’t got the blood flowing to them enough and gradually increased the demands on them.
If your muscles are tight before you start playing then the likelihood of you getting injured increases. The calf muscles in particular may be tighter due to a few different reasons.
- If you have been wearing high heels in the days running up to a match.
- If you have completed a tough workout in 24-48 hours before the match, delayed onset of muscle soreness can cause the muscle length to be decreased.
- Another reason could be if in the days/weeks preceding the injury you have accumulated a lot of activity and the muscles are overly fatigued going into the match.
If you play a sport and you are already in a dehydrated state your risk of muscle tear will be increased.
Dehydrated muscles are less pliable and don’t function as well. Muscle cramps and fatigue can lead to muscle tears.
If there is a weakness further up the kinetic chain such as in the glutes or core, you may have to compensate through your calf muscles and this small muscle group is already taking a large percentage of your body weight when you run. So you want to try and spread this burden as much as you can with the bigger muscles.
Prevention methods to reduce your risk of calf strains
Before we lay out the prevention methods, we must say that you can follow all these protocols to the letter and still pull your calf. There is always a degree of risk when you take to any sports field.
These measures will just stack the odds in your favour. It’s well worth implementing these small changes because chances are, if you are like most people who play sport, time on the sideline can lead to a grumpy irritable you.
So lets reduce that risk the best we can!
Keep The Muscles Warm
If its cold outside wear longer trousers to insulate the muscle.
Downward facing dogs with marching is one of the best dynamic stretches you can do to prepare for sport.
Then make sure you do some lighter moments on court to gradually ease yourself up to an intensity that is close to match play.
Remember to stay away from static stretching before a match as this has been shown to increase your risk for injury. Everything should be dynamic in the pre match warm up.
It may be advisable to do static stretching between sessions. Here are two of my favourite calf stretches. Or you can sign up for our online weekly mobility class here: https://www.getresultsfitness.co.uk/mobility-class/
Hopefully by now the message of the countless benefits of strength training is getting out there now. From experience I know the racquet playing amateur just wants to be on court. However a small amount of strength training will mean you will get the most out of your time on court and reduce the chances of you having to spend time on the sidelines with an injury.
I would recommend doing a full body workout 2-3 times per week and then include specific strengthening exercise for the calves here are three of my favourite calf strengthening exercises:
Calf Raises (start with 2 legs, if you can do over 30 reps move to single legs).
Eccentric Calf Raises, tip toe walking (a good standard to aim for is to be able to do 20-30 single leg calf raises).
I strongly recommend implementing this advice, because chances are if you ignore it you will have to experience the dreaded calf tear. And I am guessing time on the sideline will leave you feeling very frustrated; grumpy and irritable. So lets reduce that risk the best we can with these simple steps.
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