The Running Doctor: Tennis leg
Whether you are a tennis pro or a weekend warrior, muscle pulls and tendon tears are a possibility.
As you play, the muscles rapidly contract against resistance. The harder you play, the greater the force, causing the muscle fibers to tear. In some cases, a complete rupture of the muscle-tendon apparatus is possible.
The majority of the leg muscles insert into the foot. The most common muscle tear or rupture occurs to the plantaris muscle, which originates above the knee and inserts into the heel, joining the Achilles' (heel cord) tendon.
The plantaris has no real vital function, as the adjacent gastrocnemius and soleus muscles team up with the Achilles' tendon for support. However, if the Achilles' tendon tears, there is a functional injury to the leg, which can no longer push the foot off the ground. If this occurs, it is important to seek medical attention.
If there is no rupture, then use rest, ice, compression and elevation. This will help reduce the pain from swelling and also the black and blue discoloration that comes from bleeding after injury.
After using ice for two days, use ice massage for 8-10 minutes followed by heat for 20 minutes a few times a day. Minor muscle pulls should not be ignored, as continued stress on these areas may cause more serious injuries.
Once the injury heals, start rehabilitation with light stretching and strengthening exercises.
Prevention of tennis leg requires a re-evaluation of training methods to avoid excessive stress on the injured area. It is also necessary to do warm-up and cool-down exercises.
Any biomechanical foot imbalances and excessive pronation and inward rotation of the foot -- which will pull the leg muscles -- should be corrected with foot inserts.
By following proper techniques, many of the injuries can be minimized.
Dr. Robert F. Weiss, a sport podiatrist, was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials. Weiss has a practice in Darien: The Foot & Ankle Institute of Darien. Weiss is a veteran of 35 Marathons and resides in Westport. For more information, visit www.therunningdoctor.net.