Shoulder, elbow and wrist pain after practicing serve

Discussion in 'Health & Fitness' started by Vlad_C, Aug 22, 2012.

  1. Vlad_C

    Vlad_C Semi-Pro

    Jun 28, 2012
    Being aware that my serve sucks really bad, I've set off on a mission to improve it. I've watched all youtube videos on this topic. I know all about the trophy position, loose arm, etc.

    Problem is, I can't seem to put it all in practice, at least not in a way that would work well. I am starting to think that there might be something physically wrong with my arm.

    After practicing a flat serve, my shoulder hurts.
    After practicing a kick serve, my elbow hurts.
    After either, I occasionally get wrist pain too.
    And I'm not talking hitting hundreds of serves either, the pain starts after only 10-15 serves.

    The funny thing is, the pain does not last long.
    Today I came home with my whole arm in pain, barely able to move it. Now one hour later, I feel fine..

    Could it be that the nerve gets pinched somewhere in the shoulder/elbow joints? Any other ideas?
    And what can I do to avoid it??
  2. Chas Tennis

    Chas Tennis Legend

    Feb 17, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    The shoulders-too-level issue on the serve & Elbow Issue

    Your pain/injuries may be entirely different but here are two issues -

    Shoulder Issue -

    This Todd Ellenbecker video has a lot of information about the shoulder anatomy, motions, injuries, and especially impingement. The comments about how to hold the proper arm orientation to minimize the risk of impingement on the serve and overhead start at minute 8. You need to be crystal clear on what he is saying to minimize the risk. Most of his exercises and stretches are for healthy shoulders to prevent injury not for rehab. Once injured they might cause problems.

    You need to video your serve to see what you are doing regarding your shoulder orientation. Video with at minimum 60p fps, bright sunlight and camera from behind.

    Stop practicing until you have some idea of the problem as you can probably be injured from just one serve that is done very incorrectly. A good instructor can probably point out some of your serving problems.

    Elbow issue -

    Here's a TW thread from last year where a guy hurt his elbow, it was in a sling. His video shows a large bend in his elbow at impact. It looked from the video that he might get a Golfer's Elbow injury and maybe he did? I hope that he is OK now. lendyl1986 how are you and do you know what happened? Read the thread and especially see Reply #33 & the second video.

    His serve video - stop at the nearest frame to impact and look at the angle in his elbow.

    I got an immediate Golfer's Elbow injury trying to add power to my volley with that same motion. The powerful internal shoulder rotators are rotating the upper arm with heavy acceleration but the inertia of the forearm and racket at such a large angle is too much.

    The pros serve very hard and have some injury issues. But when was the last time that you saw a pro quit their match because of a shoulder injury? The basic pro serving technique seems relatively safe when done correctly.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2012
  3. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

    Dec 28, 2008
    East side of San Francisco Bay
    Might post a vid of your service motion.
    Since it should hurt no more than throwing a ball hard, you should be able to serve at least 25 without onset of any kind of pain.
    And serves, even your fastest flat serves, are NOT his with effort and muscle power. Like throwing far, effort is required, but controlled, less than maximum effort is needed to throw far and hit fast serves.
    I'd think, about 85% effort is the most anyone can use to hit his fastest serves.
  4. El Diablo

    El Diablo Guest

    Feb 19, 2004
    Billiards is a wonderful game.
  5. charliefedererer

    charliefedererer Legend

    Feb 13, 2009
    Two questions:

    1. Is your arm in great shape for tennis?

    2. Are you "arming" the serve?

    1. As you have seen, the serve puts tremendous stress on the arm. Get your arm in great shape to prevent arm problems. Do the thrower's ten exercises:

    You'll notice that none of these are hard to do, or require great strength. They are meant to strengthen some of the smaller muscles which protect the shoulder, elbow and wrist, like the rotator cuff muscles, and flexors/extensors of the forearm.

    They also help to strenghthen the muscles that stop the forward motion of the serve. In most players the forward "hitting" muscles are much stronger then the "stopping" muscles. But this means the stopping muscles (which are elastic) then don't effectively stop the forward motion, putting stress on the non-elastic ligaments and tendons at the joints.

    By doing the thrower's ten, most can serve without pain, as long as their technique is correct and they don't have an underlying injury.

    2. Chas and LeeD have already started to discuss that a technique issue could be the problem.

    You say you have watched "all the videos", but do you really appreciate it is the big muscles of the legs and core that really power the serve?

    For a graphic example, check out this video of Soderling serving:
    Robin Söderling serve slowmotion

    He uses his legs for a powerful push off, and he forms his body into a "bow shape" when seen from the side, so that when he he "reverses the bow", the upper body straightening back up already has his arm and racquet moving fairly quickly. Thus his racquet is essentially weightless - already shooting up- so there is much less stress on his arm completing the stroke by extending the elbow and internally rotating at the shoulder.

    Here are some videos that emphasize using your body to power the serve, and some more info on techniques to prevent shoulder problems:

    Tennis Lesson: Serve Tips: Lead with the Hip

    Nick Bollettieri-Sonic Serve.wmv

    Your serve technique doing more harm than good?

    Preventing Rotator Cuff Injury
  6. Vlad_C

    Vlad_C Semi-Pro

    Jun 28, 2012
    Thanks a lot everyone! A lot of useful information there!

    Chas Tennis, thank you for pointing me to lendl1986's thread. It is now clear to me that I was making the same mistake, hitting with a bent elbow, and having the tendency to "arm the ball".
    Luckily I always stopped at the first signs of pain, so I never injured myself to the extent that he did - but I was clearly headed in the same direction.
    Thanks for saving me from the same fate!

    Even though everything feels ok at the moment, I'll take a few days off from tennis, just in case. I'll try my serve again next week, making sure I'll hit with a fully extended arm.

    I never had any arm issues with my groudstrokes, and my partners tell me I hit quite a heavy ball. But that's because I use the right technique, and hit with a loose arm and a loose grip.
    Somehow I find it very difficult to do the same on my serve. Hopefully I'll manage it eventually.

    I'll make sure I'll add those rotator cuff exercises to my gym routine. Strengthening the core would also help, I'll have to work on that as well.
  7. Chas Tennis

    Chas Tennis Legend

    Feb 17, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    The lendyl1986 thread described one issue and what some people on the forum thought it might be. Be aware of that issue but it's only one possibility..............

    I've spent a lot of time studying the strokes and I'm still missing some things. I typically have a mental list of checkpoints to include in my service motion with the goal of a serve that uses internal shoulder rotation for racket head speed. If there are 10 things on my serve checklist, unfortunately, I'm typically leaving out 2-3. I can often identify them during a match and add them when I make the effort. To really check I use video.

    A recent pain issue for me is an occasional very slight wrist pain. It has me worried as I try to learn both a new forehand and train all the component motions of my serve. I have been confused as to whether the new forehand or serve are either pinching the ulnar side of the wrist or stretching it. ? I took a video of my match serves and saw a bend in the wrist that I did not intend and that might cause pinching there. There was also a bend in my elbow that did not belong. I had no idea that those had gotten into in my service motion during matches. Is that the source of my wrist pain? ? Point being, get some videos of your strokes. [Many newer DSLRs will do 60p fps and allow the shutter speed to be manually set.]

    Wrist pain & some serving discussions -

    People on this forum often have pain and without seeing a Dr take off until it feels better and then try tennis again. The pain often lessens in 3-4 weeks. Some injured tissue takes longer than 3 weeks to heal. I read that tendon injuries, for example, can take from 2-6 months to heal. Tennis probably stresses the tissue in the same way that injured it. Tennis elbow injuries are one of the most risky issues to deal with. If injured see a Dr.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2012

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