Question of the Day: Tackling Tennis Elbow
TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.
I am a 3.0 baseline player who swings a Wilson BLX Blade Lite. I like how it feels during play, because of its even balance. I string it with Babolat Xcel string, at 58 lbs. Recently, I have been facing a couple of issues. One, the racquet doesn’t have too much power, which makes it difficult to hit penetrating shots. Two, my elbow usually starts hurting the longer I play. I’m wondering if adding more lead tape can help with increasing the racquet’s power as well as treating my elbow issues. In general, are head-heavy or head-light racquets elbow friendly?—Raj C.
As I always attempt to make clear, Raj, before giving any equipment advice that has health-related consequences: Please ensure that you meet with a licensed physician or physiotherapist. Professional consultation should be the first step that you take in treating your recurring elbow pain.
That having been said: Generally speaking, heavier racquets (roughly greater than 11 ounces) that are balanced head light are best for preventing elbow injury. By these simple criteria, your Wilson BLX Blade really isn’t too elbow friendly, due to its light weight (10 oz., strung) and even balance. Nevertheless, as you suggest, you certainly could attempt to modify the stick to a heavier, more head-light specification by adding lead tape. On this front, it’d be a good idea to get the help of a qualified racquet technician. (In brief, you’ll need to add weight to the handle and throat of the racquet.) To locate a technician near you, check out the USRSA’s (United States Racquet Stringers Association) stringer search here.
As to whether adding weight to your racquet will increase the penetration of your shots, it’s hard to say without knowing much about your biomechanics and game. But certainly, swinging a heftier stick gives you the potential to hit with more power. The determining factor will be whether you can get that heavier racquet up to speed.
But let’s get back to your elbow, which is surely a much more pressing matter than where your ball lands in the court. In addition to increasing your racquet’s weight and changing its balance, let me recommend a few other steps you should take to reduce the impact forces acting on your body. (These steps are also enumerated, in slightly different form, in “Warding Off Tennis Elbow,” a post I wrote back in August.)
1) Switch to natural gut. True, Babolat Xcel, as a quality multifilament, isn’t overly stiff. But by going to gut, you’ll really minimize the amount of shock transmitted from your stringbed to your elbow. If you want to stick with Babolat string, ask your stringer to install a set of VS Gut or, if you’re on a budget, Tonic+. Otherwise, a full listing of natural gut strings, ordered by stiffness level, can be found on the USRSA’s website here.
2) String at lower tensions—in the high 50s with natural gut, low 50s with a multifilament, high 40s with a monofilament (in lbs.).
3) If you ever consider switching from your Blade Lite: Avoid racquets that are, again, very light (less than 10 oz.) and/or very head-heavy (less than 5 pts. HH). Also avoid racquets with RA (i.e., stiffness) values in the upper 60s and above.
4) Use a thicker, softer grip.
5) Improve your form by taking lessons from a certified teaching professional. How you go about hitting the ball can have a large influence on whether or not you’re prone to injury.
If you have any other questions, please post in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to help you. Good luck.