Top 3 Table Tennis Injuries (and How to Prevent Them)!
29 April 2016 | Posted in: Table Tennis Tips
Nothing is worse than getting injured. Unfortunately, even in low-impact, non-contact sports such as table tennis, injuries will invariably crop up. What are 3 common table tennis injuries and how to prevent them?
About the Guest Post Author
Kevin Finn is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and the owner and creator of FitnessWalkthrough.com. As a strength training and nutritional consultant with a master’s degree in education, he specializes in breaking down complex information and arming people with the knowledge and tools necessary to transform their physiques and take their performance to the next level.
Kevin’s love for table tennis began in high school and never left. As a player he specializes in playing defensively, losing frequently, and spending inordinate amounts of time researching and tweaking his setup.
As a table tennis enthusiast who has dealt with his fair share of injuries, Kevin can speak first hand of the frustration and anguish that accompanies each injury—not because of the pain, but because it limits his ability to play table tennis! And that is a situation which is unacceptable!
So, in an effort to save you from a similar fate, he decided to share 3 common table tennis injuries as well as some tips for how to prevent them.
These tips are adapted from Kevin's new eBook, The Table Tennis Player’s Guide to Health and Fitness. If you find these tips to be useful and are interested in a more comprehensive look into sports nutrition, sport-specific athletic training, and other important health considerations for the table tennis player, you can download the entire book for free by clicking this link.
Before we get started…
Before getting into the meat of this article, I want to point out two things:
First, I am not a doctor, nor am I a physical therapist. As a strength and conditioning specialist, I do have some experience rehabbing and working around injuries, but it is not my area of expertise. As with any medical issue, you should always consult with your doctor and do whatever he or she says.
Second, the best way to not get injured is to avoid getting an injury in the first place. Once you are injured, the likelihood of reinjuring the same body part is much higher. This means it is particularly important to take preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of injury. Be proactive!
With that in mind, here are your first two tips:
- Perform a proper warmup BEFORE you get to the table. And no, that doesn’t mean doing a few arm swings and holding a static stretch or two. First and foremost, you need to get your body temperature up (it is a warm up after all). Doing a few minutes of light cardio works well for this. After getting warm, you should do a combination of self-myofascial release, dynamic stretching, static stretching, and activation drills. Not sure what any of that means? You’re in luck! I’ve created two sample warm ups designed specifically for table tennis players which can be viewed here and here.
- Increase your body’s resilience by performing resistance training: One of the most under-rated benefits of resistance training is that it makes your body much more injury resistant. Most people think that lifting weights is just for “bulking up” and building muscle, but it also increases the strength of your bones and connective tissue (tendons, ligaments). Muscle imbalances and overall weakness are the root problem for many injuries. Performing a properly designed and periodized strength training routine is the best way to fix those problems.
So, with that said, let’s look at some of the more common table tennis injuries…
(Table) Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow generally occurs due to overuse of the hand, forearm, and arm muscles. It results in pain on the outside portion of your elbow (the lateral epicondyle). If you have pain on the inside of your elbow it is called golfer’s elbow. Because this is a pretty common injury and is one that I get asked about fairly frequently, I’m going to take a little extra time on this one. In fact, what follows comes directly from the injury chapter of my book:
You’ve ignored the lingering pain in your elbow for a few weeks and what was once a mere annoyance has turned into debilitating pain to the point where even holding your racket is difficult.
Here’s what I would suggest:
1. Stop all activity that causes pain. This is probably the hardest thing to do, as the healing process can take weeks (or longer).
2. Consult with your doctor or physiotherapist. Do what they say!
3. Address tissue quality of the lateral epicondyle by foam rolling the area.
4. Perform flexibility and strengthening exercises specifically for the forearm (as long as said movements do not result in pain) and introduce novel movements to increase your movement repertoire.
5. Condition and strengthen the entire body and learn to generate power through larger muscle groups such as the hips and shoulders rather than relying on the wrist or elbow to generate force.
6. Gradually reintroduce table tennis into your routine under the following conditions:
- Have a coach assess your technique and ensure that there are not technical flaws in your stroke that exacerbate the problem—hyperextending the elbow on backhands for example.
- Adjust your grip: Is the handle on your paddle too thin? This could be causing issues if it causes you to grip the handle too tightly. A little grip tape can help in this regard and, depending on the amount used and where you place it, won’t interfere too much with feedback on your shots.
- Consider reducing the weight of your setup: Some players note increased comfort when playing with a lighter weight setup. With the wide variety of blades and rubbers available on the market today there are plenty of lighter weight rubbers and blades that may suit you.
7. Experiment with the use of orthotic or compression sleeves and see if it improves the feeling of the joint without interfering with performance.
8. After initial pain and inflammation have subsided, try applying heat to the area in order to relieve tension and increase blood flow. This may be beneficial in speeding the healing process as the increased blood flow will carry nutrients to the injured area and will help remove cell debris from the damaged tissue.
Rather than simply slapping a Band-Aid on the problem and trying to “tough it out,” this method takes some time to really try to address the deficiencies that may have caused the injury in the first place.
Sometimes you have to take a step backward before you can take a few steps forward.
The sequence listed above can be roughly adapted to most minor injuries you will incur. In many cases, if you listen to your body and nip these problems in the bud, you can avoid having to take extended breaks from activity.
Ah, the dreaded sprained ankle. This is another common injury which most of us have had to deal with at one time or another in our lives. Unlike tennis elbow, a sprained ankle is an acute injury. Because ankle sprains can vary quite a bit in severity, I will not be suggesting treatment options (see a doctor!); instead, we will focus on preventative measures.
One of the first things you can examine is your choice of footwear. Your shoes should have excellent grip and should keep you low to the ground. You don’t want a clunky shoe with a lot of heel elevation. Consider choosing a shoe specifically designed for table tennis, as these shoes are built for handling the quick lateral movements needed to play competitively.
You also should work on improving the strength and flexibility of your ankle joint. Start by foam rolling the calves and using a golf ball to roll out your foot like this (helps with plantar fasciitis too!). Then perform mobility and flexibility drills such as the rocking ankle mobilization and knee-to-wall ankle mobilization, as well as holding some static stretches for the calf.
Next, strengthen all of the muscles of the lower body by regularly performing resistance training. Single leg exercises such as lunges will help build strength as well as balance and coordination. This will lead to increased stability in the ankle joint and will make you better able to resist twisting your ankle when you do trip up.
Lastly, improve your footwork! Work with a coach and don’t neglect your footwork drills. Learning proper footwork will help ensure you have the coordination to properly move about the court in a safe and effective manner.
As the most mobile joint in the body, the shoulder has a tremendous range of motion. Unfortunately, this also means that it is more prone to injury. In table tennis, the shoulder joint takes quite a beating as it is repeatedly utilized in rapid and often unpredictable movements.
Just like with an ankle sprain, my recommendations here will focus on preventative actions you can take rather than rehabbing an already injured shoulder. I hope by now you can guess the basic steps we’re going to take—address tissue quality, mobilize and stretch, strengthen.
But first, here’s a quick test:
- Stand up and relax with your arms at your sides.
- Keep your eyes looking straight ahead and stick out your thumbs.
- Look down at your thumbs.
Are your thumbs pointing straight ahead forming parallel lines? If so, that’s good. That means your shoulder alignment is already pretty good.
If your thumbs are rotated inwards, pointing more towards your body, then your shoulders are internally rotated.
Because we spend so much time sitting with our bodies hunched over various electronic devices, many of us suffer from tight chest muscles and internally rotated shoulders. Weak and underused upper back muscles are also a common problem that can contribute to potential shoulder issues.
Here’s what you need to do to bulletproof your shoulders:
1. Foam roll your thoracic spine, chest, and shoulders
2. Static stretch your chest, lats, and shoulders.
3. Thoroughly warm up shoulders with mobility drills such as band pullaparts, dislocates, and scapular wall slides (see previously linked warm up video).
5. Strengthen entire upper body musculature but make sure the ratio of pulling and pushing exercises is tipped in favor of pulling. Pullups/chinups, inverted rows, and seated cable rows are excellent exercises to build your pulling strength and can easily be incorporated into most routines
6. Incorporate steps 1-5 into your warmups and workouts and perform at least 3-5 times per week.
I hope that you’ve been able to take away a few useful tips from this article. If I can help keep just one table tennis player on the table, injury free, then I will be happy!
Keep in mind, however, the above-mentioned tips are merely the “tips” of an iceberg. In The Table Tennis Player’s Guide to Health and Fitness, I cover injury prevention, warm ups, mobility, resistance training, and so much more. Take some time and give it a thorough read; you won’t regret it!
I would also like to hear from YOU, so let me know in the comments section below: How have YOU dealt with injuries in the past? What has been helpful in overcoming said injuries?