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Shouldering the pain: Racquet sports may lead to aches, pains

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Tennis and pickleball are extremely popular sports in Northern Michigan, and the summer weather brings with it a flood to the courts of enthusiasts of all ages. Veteran players of both sports are usually the ones who are less likely to sustain an injury early in the season because they have learned the benefits of pre-season conditioning.

Novices usually skip out on the pre-season prep work, and are often left frustrated when they develop aches and pains after their first few matches.

To learn more about shoulder pain which occurs with tennis and pickle ball, I spoke to Dr. Dan Wilcox. Dr. Wilcox is an orthopedic surgeon at Bay Street Orthopedics who sees patients in Petoskey, Charlevoix and Cheboygan.

Why are sports like pickle ball and tennis especially hard on the shoulder and elbow?

“Any sport that involves repetitive activity, especially overhead activity, and especially in an unconditioned athlete, may cause inflammation (tendinitis) in the shoulder and/or elbow.”

Do muscle imbalances in other body areas, such as tightness in the hips and weakness in the low back, increase the strain placed on the upper extremity?

“Yes, the hips and low back are part of the kinetic chain that functions along with the shoulder and elbow while an athlete hits or throws a ball. Weakness or tightness in these areas will detract from the power created during the throwing/hitting motion.”

If an athlete develops pain in their shoulder that starts to impact their daily activities, how long should they wait before seeing their doctor or orthopedist?

“If the shoulder pain does not resolve with rest and avoidance of the provocative activity for 2-4 weeks, then a visit to your physician may be beneficial.”

What are some possible interventions available to the athlete to try to improve their pain before surgical intervention is considered?

“Aside from rest and avoidance of the provocative activity, physical therapy, use of anti-inflammatory pills, or an anti-inflammatory injection may be beneficial. If these options fail to provide adequate pain relief, then surgical treatment may be considered.”

If surgery is necessary, how long might it take to return the athlete’s sport of choice?

“If shoulder surgery is necessary, an athlete’s return to sport may take 3-12 months, depending on the procedure and sport.”

To prevent injury or to address a nagging pain before the season starts, its usually a good idea to schedule a consultation with your physical therapist.

Our window for court time is precious and limited in Northern Michigan, so don’t risk losing time due to injury.

Jeff Samyn is a Physical Therapist, board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center in Petoskey. He can be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This information is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.

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Our Petoskey clinic is located within the Bay Street Orthopedic building, 4048 Cedar Bluff Drive. 231-347-9300 [map]

Our Petoskey East clinic is located on the corner of Mitchell & Division, 345 N. Division 231-348-7950.[map]

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Our Charlevoix clinic is located in the Kmart Plaza, at 06510 M-66, 231-547-0380 [map] 

Our Cheboygan clinic is located south of town, 9445 N Straits Hwy, 231-627-7201 [map]

Harbor Springs & Indian River

Our Harbor Springs clinic is located next the Harbor Springs airport, 8452 M-119 Harbor Plaza, 231-348-7002. [map]                                        

Our Indian River clinic is right in the heart of downtown, 3805 South Straits Hwy, 231-238-4880. [map]