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What Causes Soreness in the Lower Back and Hips When Playing Tennis

by
author image Dan Howard
Dan Howard is a sports and fitness aficionado who holds a master's degree in psychology. Howard's postgraduate research on the brain and learning has appeared in several academic books and peer-reviewed psychology journals.
What Causes Soreness in the Lower Back and Hips When Playing Tennis
An open backhand stance places maximum stress on a right-handed player's left hip. Photo Credit Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

When it comes to preventing recurring tennis injuries, knowing the cause of your pain is half the battle. Swinging for groundstrokes places plenty of rotational stress on your hip and back muscles, while hitting a big serve causes even more torque on the core. Once you identify the cause of your lower back and hip soreness, consult with your doctor to help you figure out how to keep enjoying tennis while managing the pain.

Groundstrokes and Pain

Both forehand and backhand groundstrokes require you to generate power by quickly rotating the trunk of your body while you hit the ball. This rotating movement puts pressure on your back muscles and is a frequent cause of minor lower back injuries, which include muscle strains. The torque caused by hitting groundstrokes can also place significant stress on the hip flexors, particularly if you approach the shot with an open stance and your weight shifted entirely to one side. Relieve excess hip pressure by closing your stance such that your chest is perpendicular, not parallel, to the net as you begin to strike your forehand and backhand shots.

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Serve Hyperextension

The classic serving motion requires you to rotate your trunk and arch your back as the ball toss approaches its apex, followed by a sharp trunk rotation and extension as you strike at the ball. This complex movement places a great deal of stress on both your lower back muscles and your hips, particularly if you hyperextend the lower back while swinging. While most serve-related injuries are relatively minor, strains and sprains are still painful and can even lead to muscle spasms and hip pain as the affected area recovers. The United States Tennis Association recommends switching to a slice serve, rather than a high-speed topspin serve, if you constantly aggravate injuries while you're at the service line.

Quick Movements

Tennis is as much a mental game as it is a physical game, and you can expect that a tough opponent will keep you guessing about which direction you need to move next. Your hips absorb the bulk of the force when you need to quickly stop and change direction laterally, while the lower back is particularly vulnerable to strain when you quickly charge toward the net to reach a short ball. A good stretching routine provides key preparation for your core and other muscles, and will help prevent injury from those sudden changes of direction.

Equipment and Court Type

Always use quality, well-fitting tennis equipment to reduce the odds that you'll experience back or hip problems. Your back will thank you for wearing shoes with sufficient shock absorption and for using a racket of appropriate grip size and a weight that you can easily control. The style of court surface that you play on is another factor that plays a role in managing back and hip pain. Asphalt and hard court surfaces provide minimal shock absorption and should preferably be avoided in favor of clay or grass courts if you suffer from tennis-related core pain.

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