Recently, one of our awesome community members asked a fantastic question. As a sufferer of golfer’s elbow, he was looking to change his racquet to move towards a frame that would provide him a more open string pattern in the hopes it would afford him with a softer feel and greater potential for spin.
In this article we’ll take an in-depth look at his question and the various elements of a racquet that can help provide relief from golfer’s and tennis elbow. While you’re here you may also want to check out our guide on the best tennis racquets for 2018.
Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common and if you’re suffering from one of these you’re not alone. Roughly 1 in 200 players suffer from tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow, a close cousin, is also common, affecting the inner area of the area around your elbow versus the outer area associated with tennis elbow.
While solving for tennis or golfer’s elbow can be challenging, there are some general guidelines and recommendations that players can consider when selecting a racquet. Let’s take a look.
Technique, Rest & Recovery
Before I jump into some of my recommendations I’d like to talk quickly about technique and rest to aid in the recovery of tennis or golfer’s elbow symptoms.
If you’re anything like me, you’d rather slap on some Tiger Balm and pop a few Advil rather than miss a day on the court, but let’s remember – tennis and golfer’s elbow are overuse injuries. As such, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by pushing through the pain.
So, what can you do?
First and foremost, I’d highly recommend you take an honest look at your technique before spending a bunch of time analyzing your gear. Frequently, tennis and golfer’s elbow can be alleviated by tweaking or developing your technique, which may be putting unnecessary pressure or force on your arm.
Secondly, give yourself time for rest. In many cases players are forced off the court when the pain gets to be too much. Don’t become this person. Be proactive about your injuries, take the time necessary for rest and recovery and spend some time with your local pro to see if there are any adjustments to make to help with the pain.
If you feel good about where you are with your technique and you’ve given yourself some time to rest, then by all means take a serious look at your equipment.
Weight or Static Weight
One of the first places to start with is racquet weight or static weight. That is the weight of your an unstrung racquet. Generally speaking, a heavier tennis racquet will absorb more shock, so if you’re suffering from tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow it can be beneficial to use a racquet with more weight. Of course, this is only true to a certain extent.
A good rule of thumb is to find the heaviest racquet weight that you can comfortably swing and make it through a three set match, but again, you want to be careful not to over do it with weight. A racquet that’s too heavy can also cause undo stress on your arm and beyond that, lead to poor technique and contact with the ball.
Many players suffering from tennis elbow will automatically jump to a feather light racquet thinking that the weight is the culprit. In many cases, doing so can make the problem worse while at the same time matching you up with a frame that isn’t that great for your game.
Remember, to an extent, weight is your friend when it comes to tennis and golfer’s elbow.
Similar to weight, tennis racquet balance is a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, more weight in the racquet head will provide stability when hitting, but less weight in the handle can leave you susceptible to shock and vibration traveling through the racquet on contact.
Recognizing this, I’d recommend that you start with a racquet that is a few points head light (HL), while again ensuring the overall weight is as heavy as you can comfortably swing and make it through a three set match.
Swing weight is the weight of a racquet as measured when swinging it through the air.
You’re going to want to look for a racquet that has a high enough swing weight, without going too high that it would end up leading to poor technique and stress on your arm.
Ultimately, swing weight is a function of racquet weight and balance, so I’d focus on the first two points and recognize that swing weight will increase as you move to a heavier racquet with balance that is head heavy (HH).
When it comes to racquet stiffness the general rule of thumb you can work with is that stiffer racquets will tend to be harsher on your arm. This is due to both the vibration and shock.
We all know what vibration is, but not everyone associates it with playing tennis. When you make contact with a ball, the energy from striking the ball travels down the frame to your hand and ultimately your arm. The more rigid or stiff the frame, the more prominent the vibration. You can also think of vibration as the residual or lingering impact from hitting a tennis ball.
Shock on the other hand is the more immediate force you feel when coming in contact with a ball. As an extreme example, think of the feeling you get in your arm when you shank a ball. That’s shock.
Combine the two, which are made worse with rackets that have higher stiffness ratings and you can begin to see how it would wreak havoc on your arm overtime.
Head Size and Racquet Length
As the size of a racquet’s head increases, so does the ability for the strings to flex, absorb impact and deflect energy. If you have the opportunity to go with a slightly larger head size it could be beneficial.
Length is another factor worth considering. As the length of a racquet increases, so will the pressure or torque on your arm when swinging. I’d recommend that you look for a shorter racquet. Most racquets will fall between 27 and 29 inches.
String Material & Construction
While strings are not part of the actual frame of a racquet, no conversation on the topic of tennis or golfer’s elbow would be complete without covering them.
As with tennis racquets, the different types of tennis strings vary greatly in material, construction and thickness, which ultimately has an impact on feel.
When searching for tennis strings, players suffering from tennis or golfer’s elbow should stay away from stiffer material like polyester and opt for softer nylon strings.
Beyond material, string construction is another factor that can contribute to tennis or golfer’s elbow. A great option are multifilament strings, which are produced by weaving together thousands of microfibers to create a string with a soft, forgiving feel.
Taking the topic of strings one step further, string tension can also have a significant impact on the overall feel of a racquet. Players suffering from tennis or golfer’s elbow may opt for a lower tension to soften the feel and again reduce the overall stiffness of a racquet.
At a lower tension, strings will absorb more energy resulting in less shock and vibration to your arm. However, the lower the string tension, the less control you have when hitting.
Last but not least, you may also want to take a look at your racquet’s string pattern. Generally speaking, a closed string pattern will provide greater control, less power and be harder on your arm.
On the other hand, an open string pattern will increase a racquets power potential, add to the overall comfort of the racquet, but tend to limit control to an extent. Another way to soften the feel of your racquet is to move towards a more open string pattern.
As you can see there’s a lot you can consider when making adjustments to your racquet to accommodate for tennis or golfer’s elbow. Recognizing this, individual players need to weigh the pros and cons of making adjustments to their racquet and strings in an effort to reduce the symptoms of tennis or golfer’s elbow.
As you evaluate different options, spend time demoing a variety of racquets. Unfortunately, there is no “best” racquet for tennis elbow, but using these guidelines, players can move towards a racquet that will fit their game while providing some relief from tennis or golfer’s elbow.
And remember, your technique can also be contributing to your symptoms, so don’t take the shortcut by switching up your equipment to provide symptomatic relief if there are other long term fixes that you can implement, which prevent the symptoms in the first place.
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