Almost every table tennis player I know has experienced injury at some point. Common complaints are back injuries, twisted knees and ankles, and repetitive strain injuries in the wrist, elbow, shoulder or hip.
This is understandable. Table tennis is a fast paced sport where you have to make sudden movements and can put a lot of strain on the body, especially when you reach a more advanced level of play.
We stand, move and rotate in quite an unnatural way. The human body wasn’t designed to play table tennis. We adapt and contort our bodies to play the game in most efficient way to win points. Our bodies do not thank us for this!
So injuries happen. This will never change. But we can take positive steps to reduce the chances of getting injured. In this blog post, I explain a few different ways you can minimise the risk of injury when playing table tennis.
If in doubt, get professional help
First, a disclaimer. I am not a doctor. I have no medical background or training. There could be endless reasons why you have an injury. If you are concerned, you should go and see a doctor or physiotherapist. A medical professional can properly assess you and prescribe a relevant rehab programme or treatment.
However, I do have plenty of experience of my own injuries, including one major knee operation, two minor knee operations, plus back and shoulder injuries. So I can give some general advice about minimising the risk of injury…
Many repetitive strain injuries occur because players are too rigid and stiff. If your muscles are tight and you’re trying to force your body to perform an action at high speed, you will put extra strain on your tendons and ligaments. If you repeat this over many months and years, your will get injuries.
So my first tip, is to keep loose. This starts with the grip. Don’t grip the handle too tightly. Keep a looser grip. You will then find your elbow and shoulder are looser and you can move your upper body (wrist, arm, hips) with less resistance.
I had a big problem with gripping too tightly and it caused me quite a bit of shoulder pain. Over the past five years I have really loosened up and even though I am playing a lot more table tennis now I rarely get any shoulder pain.
Stance and footwork
Another source of injury is often poor stance and footwork. This can result in losing balance (rolling ankles, twisting knees, stumbling) or stretching for balls, which puts extra strain on the back, knees and shoulder joints.
You should try and play with a good table tennis stance – feet shoulder width apart, right foot slightly back (for a right handed player), leaning forwards. With this stable base, you can then move left and right in an efficient way which minimises the chance of rolling an ankle or stumbling.
Then you should aim to move, stop, hit, rather than reaching for balls. If you can get in a good position in relation to the ball most of the time, you will be able to play shots in a smooth way, with less stress on the body.
Warm-up / cool-down
We all know we should do it, don’t we? But how many of us actually do a proper warm-up or cool-down? Probably very few.
If you have injury problems, then warming-up properly can make a big difference. A good warm-up will increase your muscle temperature and muscle elasticity and also increase the range of movement for your major joints.
What warm-up exercises your do, depends on your specific circumstances, but in general your should try to do dynamic movements rather than static stretches.
A cool-down after playing will help prevent muscle soreness. Static stretches are good for this. I never used to cool-down, but started to get painful leg cramps in my sleep after a tough table tennis session. Now I do my cool-down stretches and drink plenty of water and no more cramps.
Injury specific exercises
Finally, if you have a particular injury concern, you should consider doing regular (daily if you can) stretching and strengthening exercises. This can help manage and get rid of the injury.
For me – I kept pulling the same muscle in my back. This was sometimes table tennis related, but more often caused by picking up my small children.
So for the past five years, I have been doing a 10 minute exercise routine (most days) which combines dynamic stretches, static stretches and some strengthening exercises.
The result? No more pulled muscles!
Even though I have not pulled this back muscle for ages, I still keep doing the daily 10 minute exercise routine to maintain the strength and flexibility in my back. Now that I coach full-time, I really have to try and look after my body.
I came up with my 10 minute exercise routine in consultation with a physiotherapist, so I know I’m doing relevant exercises that will actually help me and not make the situation worse.
Pilates and Yoga can also be very useful in developing all round flexibility and core strength, which helps reduce the risk of muscle and tendon injuries.
Reducing risk of injury
If you follow all of the steps above, you still might get injured! Table tennis is a competitive sport after all. Everyone’s body is different and some are more susceptible to injury than others.
So you can’t eliminate injuries completely, but you can reduce the risk.
Again, I must stress that I am not a doctor. If you have concerns about an injury, go and seek professional help. But the advice I give above has helped me stay injury free, despite playing 20 hours of table tennis per week.
If you can reduce the risk of injury – even a little bit – then you can enjoy playing table tennis for longer.