Nov 30 2013

Court Burns, Blisters, and Cramps, Oh My!

Apparel | Health | Injury Prevention | League Tennis       Clif Render      

I have always been a decent athlete - naturally good at most sports but I never played them at a very high level. I played sports in elementary school, in Junior High School, and a little bit in high school but never anything at the college level. So when I started playing competitive recreational tennis (is that an oxymoron?), there was a lot that I needed to learn. If you're a former collegiate athlete then you probably already know all of this. If not, read on.

First off, yes, you really do need to wear UnderArmour. Well, not necessarily UnderArmour but any good brand of performance undergarments are a huge help. Early on I discovered that after running or playing tennis for an extended period of time, I would find painful red rashes appearing in between my legs and on my sides. At first I thought it was from something I might have been exposed to working in the yard. Eventually, however, I realized that they were, instead, tied to my athletic endeavors. A quick bike ride or run around the block was no problem but a three set singles match with a friend and my inner thighs were absolutely on fire. Friction burns caused by repeated rapid movements in loose fitting clothing are definitely not something to laugh at - unless you're my wife, of course. Compression shorts and performance underwear are a must. Not only do they fit tightly like a second skin and protect you from friction burn but they will also help to keep your muscles tight and provide some protection from injury. As someone who has suffered with back problems for most of my adult life, I can tell you without question that I am far less likely to have issues when wearing a compression shirt than I am without. Also, when that super-competitive guy across the net from you tries to back you off with a very carefully chosen overhead, you'll want all the extra layers you can get. But, if you do happen to forget your compression shorts for a long run or match and end up with friction burn, Diaper rash ointment is your miracle cure. Diaper rash ointment when applied at night leads to amazing relief the next day. It's a beautiful beautiful thing.

Secondly, I discovered than feet were definitely not designed for repeated fast starts and stops on hard asphault surfaces. I would come home with blisters that would hurt and peel and be tender for weeks. If I was able to stop the abuse before it got to the point of blistering then that pre-blister would form a callus. This is an amazing ability that our creator built into our makeup that was designed to help us adapt to the changing needs of the world around us. Unfortunately, however, it appears that our creator didn't play lots of competitive tennis. When pre-blisters form calluses and then we pre-blister again and form bigger calluses right beside our other calluses, that's when we have problems. "But wait," you may say. "The calluses will protect your feet from harm, right?" Right. And wrong. Yes, the callus is tough and will feel very little or no pain but the skin around the callus is tender and when you exert large amounts of pressure on a callus, it's the tender skin around it that suffers. And, boy does it suffer! I suffered through a great deal of pain from blisters, calluses, and friction burns on my feet early on until one pro let me in on a tip that, it seemed, everyone knew but me. The secret was wearing two pairs of socks. I do this every time I play now and this prevents almost all of the problems that I was having before. The only problem that I still have now is the occasional case of court burn that I still get from playing a particularly active match. To deal with this, you just apply a little bit of (actually a lot of) moisturizing lotion or cream to your feet after the activity and then again before bed. Do this and you'll notice a world of difference in the morning.

Thirdly, I discovered how traumatic a simple sprained ankle can be. So, you're working hard to get better on the court. "Repetition, Repetition, Repetition," the local pro wil say. Then, all of the sudden, you turn an ankle and you're out for anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks or more and you have to start learning and repetitioning all over. A sprained ankle is not just a simple issue. It can hurt for weeks or months and if you don't allow it to fully heal before returning to the court, you could be in for a re-injury that could take even longer to recover from or in worst case scenarios, require surgery. Always keep an ankle brace (or two) in your bag at all times. Put one on at the first sign of a tweak. I sometimes catch myself dragging my feet a little more than usual and that can be dangerous. If you catch yourself doing this, put on your ankle brace immediately just in case. New shoes? You might want to start off with an ankle brace just in case the new shoes don't work well with your playing style or foot type. The worst two ankle sprains that I've ever had (I still feel pain in my right ankle because of it to this day) came from a very expensive updated version of a my favorite Wilson shoe. The updated version was completely different from the old version and didn't work for me at all. Don't take for granted that a new shoe will fit you as well as the old one did. Better yet, if you're interested in avoiding sprained ankles entirely, keep in mind that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Why don't you go ahead and wear those ankle braces proactively any time you play. I know many people who do this and almost all the professionals on the men's tour do it as well. It a habit I wish I'd gotten in before my first ankle sprain.

Fouthly and lastly is dealing with cramping. Cramps are a real pain (if you'll pardon the pun) and can be a debilitating problem if not treated immediately and aggressively. As you might have gathered from the rest of this article, I play pretty hard and if I play lots of matches back to back in a tournament or championship, I will get cramps. In the past I just drank lots of water, ate Bananas, and hoped for the best. Once the first cramp hit, however, I was usually done. I would almost always recramp shortly afterwards and repeatedly until I was forced to cease all athletic activity. It would take me days to recover. Little did I know there are two almost sure-fire cures for cramping that are right up my alley: Pickle Juice and Yellow Mustard. It was a former college tennis standout who broke this news to me and I could have kicked myself for not knowing it sooner. For a very picky eater to find out that the only two non-bland things that he likes to eat could have saved him days worth of pain, discomfort, and lost tennis matches was a real bummer. But on the other hand, it is pretty awesome to know that the keys to recovery are already in my refrigerator. Of course I was skeptical at first but after a little research, I too was a believer. As it turns out, Lots of people have tested the theory and found plenty of evidence to support it. Pickle juice before during and after an activity can help prevent and even stop cramping is a very short period of time. Need something to keep in your bag for emergencies? Try a couple of fast food packets of yellow mustard. Just chug one or two of these and the effect will be startlingly quick and long lasting. I had no idea.

So, there you have it. Several years worth of painful startling discoveries all written down for your reading pleasure. The only problem is, now that you've read this, you have no excuse for suffering through any of the problems that I have had. That's okay, though. If you stick with it, I'm sure that you'll discover some completely different problems and solutions that you can, in turn, share with me in your own blog post. Just let me know when you do. I much prefer learning my lessons the easy way.

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