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 recently have been suffering from some upper back and shoulder pain, which I think is affecting my tennis. In particular, I feel a bit hunched over when I serve, and have been losing velocity on that shot. I think this may be a result of extended time sitting in front of the computer at work. What are your recommendations?—Albert C.
This is a complex question, Albert. Make sure that you meet with a licensed physician and/or physiotherapist. Understanding the etiology of your pain and how to treat it—including, but not limited to, practicing specific exercises that target the upper back and shoulders—should be some of the first steps you take. It also might be a good idea to cease tennis activity and rest your body for some time.
Having said that, one idea to consider implementing is a posture shirt. According to Todd Ellenbecker, a physiotherapist who works with the ATP Tour, hunching of the back or shoulders can be markers of scapular dysfunction and/or general shoulder debility. Interestingly, many physiotherapists believe that, in addition to daily shoulder exercises, posture shirts can help the upper body assume a healthier position, namely by forcing the shoulder blades back. (For more information about exercise and injury prevention for tennis, visit the USTA's Strength and Conditioning page here.)
As Ellenbecker described the shirts, in a conversation last fall, “Going on a diagonal from your shoulder back along to the middle of your spine, right over the top of the shoulder blade, there are these re-enforced, thicker fabrics. They’re relatively tight. So when you put the shirt on, they actually pull you back. If you’re sitting on a computer right now, chances are that you’re sitting in a slumped posture. Imagine putting on a tight shirt that makes you sit up straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together...Dr. James Andrews, in Birmingham, Alabama, actually did a research study that found that Little League throwing athletes who wore posture shirts increased their velocity by 1 M.P.H.”
One example of a posture shirt is the adidas Techfit Powerweb (MSRP $55; see above photo), a nylon and elastane compression top that, according to the company, is fortified over the scalpular for better posture and form.