Gear Q&A: Wristy Business
Jon Levey answers your equipment questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to submit your question.
I am a 48 year-old male and have been playing tennis for the last three years regularly—four times a week. I’ve been having wrist problems for the last three months. When my wrist starts hurting I stop playing for two weeks, take medicine, and do wrist exercises recommended by a physiotherapist. But the healing is very slow; after one hour of tennis I have to rest for two weeks.
I am wondering whether the racquet weight and grip size play a role in the injury. I am using a Dunlop Biomimetic 200 which weighs 11.9 oz with grip size L4. The reason I am using a heavy racquet with a large grip was to avoid the tennis elbow problem. Indeed, the tennis elbow problem disappeared, but the wrist problem started.—Oguz Y.
Last week we addressed equipment ramifications on tennis elbow, and today we’re moving our way down the arm to the wrist. It's a tricky joint and lots of players (poor Juan Martin del Potro and Laura Robson) struggle to keep it healthy. Just as with the elbow, before any racquet or string alterations are made it’s best to 1) see a medical professional—which it appears you’ve done—and 2) determine if faulty technique is the culprit.
With the game so topspin-centric, many players get overly wristy in the pursuit of more rotation on the ball instead of applying a proper brushing motion. And since you’re a relatively new player coming late to the game, some bad stroke habits good be ingrained from other sports. So finding a smart coach to analyze your mechanics would be a wise start.
From an equipment perspective, your Dunlop frame should be rather arm-friendly. As you noted, it carries a substantial weight—and is extremely flexible—which helps absorb shock at impact. It is possible, though, that it’s slightly more mass than your wrist can handle. The strength exercises you’re doing should help, but dropping some weight—maybe half an ounce—may also put less wear and tear on the joint over several playing sessions per week. Just make sure to find an alternative that’s still flexible and rather head light.
The next spec you’re concerned with is grip size. An L4, or 4 ½ grip, is not necessarily that big; I use something larger, as do many players. However, for your hand size it could be. And if the grip is too big, it may cause you to squeeze the handle too tightly in order to control the racquet. (Some players employ a stranglehold even with a proper-sized grip). That extra pressure can lead to wrist or elbow problems. A relaxed grip is not only beneficial for stroke production, but it also reduces tension in the hitting arm.
A knowledgeable racquet retailer should be able to tell you if your grip is the right size. The standard test is to close your hitting hand on the grip and see if the index finger of your off-hand can fit between the space created by the ends of your fingers and the pad of your thumb. If it slides comfortably with light touching, it’s the right size. If there’s not enough room, the grip is too small; too much space and it’s too big.
Using a grip that is on the small side has become very popular. Many players believe it allows their wrists to be more active, promoting greater spin potential. But in your situation I'd raise the caution flag. I believe you’d be better off with more wrist stability rather than extraneous movement. So I’d suggest dropping down in size only if it indeed turns out that yours is too big.
You didn’t mention anything about your strings, but you clearly need a soft multifilament. Natural gut is the most forgiving, but is rather expensive. There are some other synthetic options that are pretty close to the playability of gut, but at a fraction of the cost. I’d definitely avoid any sort of polyester until you can play pain-free for an extended period of time, and even then I’d tread lightly; the pros of better durability and spin production probably wouldn’t outweigh the con of re-injury.
Something else to consider besides strings is string pattern. That particular Dunlop has a tight 18x20 pattern in a 95 sq. in. head. That’s great for control, but it can also make for a little more feedback at contact. It’s also not as easy to generate spin, and might promote more wrist action to try to compensate. Opening up the string bed to a 16x18 or 16x19 pattern would soften impact and make it easier to apply spin with less wrist involvement. And if you want to take this to the extreme, you could try one of the newer super spin-friendly frames with a 16x15 or 16x16 pattern.
Lastly, you might consider using some sort of wrist wrapping or brace. True, this is treating the symptom rather than the cause, but the extra support can be a crutch until you know the wrist can handle repeated play. I’ve avoided chronic wrist pain, but I have had acute injuries to the area and a simple bandage wrap has proven valuable in providing security while it healed. A brace is a more intrusive measure that will offer additional backbone to the wrist by limiting movement even further. Either way, it’s probably best not to take this course without first discussing it with your physiotherapist.
Good luck and speedy recovery.
Next week, knuckle pain.