Improving your tennis game and reducing injuries – one in the same

As a physio with a background in coaching tennis, I have developed a particular eye for the way that tennis technique relates to movement development.

One thing that any tennis coach will tell you is don’t try to teach a kid a serve until he can throw a ball.

You can’t expect to be high performing / injury free if you don’t have the base.

So here are a few things that need to be looked at for the tennis player:

Tennis is a whole-body activity

So when a tennis player hits a serve or forehand, they anchor or create drive from the lower body first.

When people refer to ‘kinetic chain dysfunction’ they mean that there is something going wrong in the sequence of movement which leads to it been inefficient.

There are many reasons why this sequence can be broken.

The most basic reason is that the person hasn’t spent enough time developing their technique in order to co-ordinate the parts.

This is why you can’t just try to copy Roger Federer’s serve – it doesn’t work.

What you teach and the cues you use for a beginner player are not the same as what you are using for an advanced player.


Conditioning, which traditionally relates more specifically to physiotherapy, also dictates the techniques which can be taught.

The fact is that conditioning and technique heavily overlap and an understanding of both is required to both improve performance and reduce injury.

There are a lot of bad kick serves out there, and people who are setting themselves for injury.

Some of the things that I look for and ask clients about – certainly not an exhaustive list.

When I am looking at a client’s video of their tennis form in a physiotherapy consultation, there are a couple of basic things that I look at.


The first is always footwork.

You build your technique from the ground up.

Whilst it is possible to play from a disadvantaged position, you want to set yourself up so that you can drive from the legs.

When players are out of their depth, one of the problems is that they simply don’t get in position.

The position is dynamic, and attention needs to be directed to how the body moves in and out of the position including the points and direction of force generation and how the rest of the body follows.

The court surface and the shoe compatibility also play into this.

Clay court shoes are different to hardcourt shoes, and the effects can add up over the course of a match.

The racquet and stringing

A change in racquet tension can make a big difference, and is dependent on the type of string used, the pattern of stringing and the frame that it is in.

Adjustments to your racquet need to be made slowly, particularly if you are playing a lot.

Assessment and management

Generally you need a base of trunk control for the lower limb drive.

Tennis players have nice looking legs, and they need them.

Hip mobility is important, but particularly in relation to how the player uses the hip mobility to generate power in the stroke.

If you don’t use your hips, then you are probably overusing your upper body.

Thoracic mobility

Thoracic mobility is important, but once again, in the context of how well a player can stabilise their trunk.

In the tennis serve you want to see a good body shape and arm position, but even with a good looking position that player may be straining their back because the player doesn’t control the position.

When assessing thoracic mobility, you need to look at the chain.

The neck

Issues here can be secondary/primary.

Your head and neck movement guides the rest of your body movement and follow the eye movement, so if you are chronically avoiding certain positions you might generate overuse patterns in areas other than the neck and head.

The shoulder girdle

Shoulder pain is the most common chronic presentation that I see.

It’s important that specific diagnoses are accounted for because this will impact on the restoration of motor control and give me an idea about prognosis.

Forearm and other upper limb presentations come in a close second, but whilst the initial approach is a little different, commonly the bulk of the work (movement patterns) is often similar to how shoulders are managed.

Another point to note is that your tennis elbow might be pain referred from your neck.

You might find some quick symptomatic relief from addressing thoracic and neck factors.

One of the most common ‘breaks in the chain’, relates to how the shoulder blade is stabilised during the cocking phase of serving motion/transition phases in the groundstrokes.

This is particularly an issue for people who have done the basic shoulder exercises and manual treatment given by their physios but are still getting issues with their serve and groundstrokes.

It may be that the shoulder just doesn’t feel right, or there are problems with higher volumes of play or when pushing on the first/second serve.

Tennis players need strength in a variety of movement patterns under load.

The movements don’t have to look exactly like a serve or forehand, but they have to develop the underlying motor strategies which form the building blocks.

For example, I have found kettlebells and suspension work to be good tools to developing some of these motor strategies.

Of course, you might not start at this point.

But to perform at even an intermediate level, you need this base.

Manual treatment can be an effective and important tool to help you develop these motor strategies as well as get some symptomatic relief.

However, in terms of treating the root cause, you often need to dig a little deeper.

At Backfocus we take a holistic approach to integrating treatment approaches to get fast results and long term outcomes, with a particular focus on the role of the spine.

The spine plays a central and complex part in the presentation of shoulder injuries and may have both a direct/indirect impact on symptoms or movement control.

If you have a specific complaint related to tennis/throwing injuries or just want to have your movement screened (from a risk reduction focus) then you could start with an assessment to get you on the right track.

Chris Bentley

Chris Bentley is a physiotherapist at Lifecare Backfocus Melbourne CBD. The clinic provides physiotherapy and myotherapy services for Melbourne CBD and the surrounding area. Chris has an interest in tennis and general exercise science. He uses manual therapy and exercise rehabilitation to bring immediate symptom relief but also to work on long term resolution of an issue.