Running shoes are manufactured with one specific purpose in mind and that is for forward repetitive in-line running. They have a high cushioned heel which is beneficial for jogging. However, this construct can cause injury if used for tennis which requires quick side to side lateral movements and cutting. The high cushioned heel in a running shoe can put extra stress on the ankle ligaments during lateral movements, making the athlete susceptible to an ankle sprain. If an athlete has a history of ankle sprains, this can worsen the severity of an injury and increases the risk of a recurrent injury. There are several techniques that tennis players may use to decrease the risk of ankle sprains, and proper footwear/gear is a major component. Other techniques may include a ligament strengthening program in physical therapy, taping/bracing and conditioning.
Regardless of shoe-wear, explosive quick movements/sprints on the tennis court can place the Achilles tendon and calf muscle at risk for injury. Most injuries are mild calf or Achilles strains but sometimes the athlete may hear a pop/feel a sensation like of being kicked in the back of the ankle. This pop can represent a more severe injury such as an Achilles tendon rupture or upper calf strain.
A rupture is when the Achilles’ tendon snaps in half and often requires surgery in active recreational athletes. Although surgery is not without its complications, it’s main benefit is to decrease re-rupture risk. This requires extensive post-operative rehabilitation.
An upper calf strain, called tennis leg, is a more common injury and heals well with several weeks of physical therapy. Along the inner upper calf where the muscle and tendon meet is a vulnerable area that can be more easily strained resulting in pain with any push-off.
To improve muscle and tendon functioning and minimize injury, an appropriate stretching and exercise program should be continued throughout the tennis season and even off-season.