SportsMedicine of Atlanta




Imagine, you are playing tennis in a highly-competitive ALTA match.  You are a recreational tennis player who competes both for fun and fitness.  It’s late in the second set when you rapidly move to hit an approach shot when suddenly you experience a sharp burning pain in the calf of  your leg.  The pain is severe, and initially you can hardly walk.  Stretching your calf brings on a significant amount of discomfort.  What you have just experienced is an injury that is common to tennis players.  The injury is called “tennis leg”.  While most of us are more familiar with “tennis elbow”, tennis leg is a debilitating injury that can be prevented with proper warm-up and stretching activities.


Once thought to be attributed to the rupture of a small muscle in the back of your knee, tennis leg has now been proven to involve a tear of the muscles and tendon portion of your calf muscle.  Specifically known as the gastrocnemius muscle, the muscle is the most superficial muscle of the calf.  The mechanism of injury does not have to be associated with the game of tennis.  However, due to the superior foot traction a tennis player obtains utilizing good tennis shoes and playing on a specifically-designed surface, it is not uncommon for sudden and abrupt changes of direction to bring about a tear in the calf muscle.  The calf muscle is significantly stretched when the athlete’s ankle is acutely bent upward.  Any athletic endeavor where there is a sudden change in direction forcing the ankle to acutely bend upward may result in the tearing of the calf muscle.


Tennis leg usually occurs in middle-age athletes who have experienced initial stages of muscle atrophy and degeneration due to aging and inactivity.  It is not uncommon for a tennis leg sufferer to have been at one time a competitive athlete during adolescence.  However, due to vocational priorities the athlete may have become sedentary and now has once again attempted return to rigorous athletic endeavors.  Unfortunately, due to the period of inactivity and the degeneration we all experience with aging, the athlete is now predisposed for an injury.


Signs and symptoms of the injury are obvious.  A sharp sudden pain that may be described as “it felt like I was shot in the leg” is often reported.  Usually, there is localized swelling and a bruise often develops.  The injured area is very tender to touch.  The athlete is able to ambulate only with an altered gait pattern  that; is characterized by walking on the toes to prevent upward bending of the ankle which would stretch the injured area and afflict further pain.


Immediate treatment of this injury will significantly improve the time and degree of recovery.  The athlete should immediately  apply a; cold and wet compress, such as crushed  ice in a plastic bag secured with an elastic bandage.  The entire leg should be elevated high than the heart.  The athlete should be given crutches and not bear weight until a sports medicine examination is conducted. 


Tennis leg injuries are classified as mild, moderate, and severe.  Mild, moderate, and severe cases  are best treated with physical therapy.  Seldom should severe cases necessitate surgical exploration and repair.  Given that the injury is properly treated, the prognosis is excellent  for the tennis leg sufferer to return to  sports endeavors.  As with most musculoskeletal sports injuries. Prevention is the best medicine.  Usually tennis leg sufferers have not received a; sports medicine  pre-participatory examination which identifies the likeliness  of developing tennis leg.  During a biomechanical examination, the sports medicine specialist recognizes the amount of calf muscle and ankle flexibility necessary to perform your sport.  A simple yet meticulously prescribed stretching exercise routine is individualized to those  athletes in need, whereby preventing tennis leg.

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