In addition to the issues you mention on “Gear Q&A: Wristy Business,” does string tension have an impact on wrist health? It has been recommended to me that I go below the recommended range on my racquet. What do you think? Thanks.—Steve L.
Several years ago, I answered a reader question about whether the weight of his frame and its grip size could be the culprits behind his recurring wrist pain. I responded that they certainly could be behind the problem, and added other potential sources such as racquet flex, strings, string pattern and probably the most responsible: technique. However, one factor that I did not mention was string tension.
But I should have. The higher the string tension, the firmer the response, and the more disturbing the feedback when contact is off-center. Which becomes particularly problematic when applied in a stiff, lightweight frame strung with a rigid polyester string. That’s the holy trinity of arm trouble.
For many players accustomed to using more flexible frames and multifilament strings, it was pretty standard to adopt string tensions in the mid-to-upper 50s. However, as equipment has evolved, stringing at those tensions can make for an unforgiving string bed. Hitting outside the sweet spot can result in added shock that can do a number on the joints of the arm, including the wrist.
As a result, there has been a growing trend in dropping string tension across the levels of the game. Wilson noticed it in its US Open tournament stringing room. Over the past decade the average string tension of the entrants dropped one pound per year—from 55 to 45 pounds. An increasing number of pros are even competing with tensions in the 30s. This was part of the impetus behind Luxilon releasing LXN Smart string earlier this year, which has a recommended tension range of 44 pounds, +/- 4 pounds.
Racquet manufacturers have also taken note. 50 pounds was generally the de-facto basement in recommended tension ranges, but several companies have become more expansive. Many have dipped down in the 40s, with Yonex and Dunlop going as low as 45 pounds.
Recreational players are often reluctant to experiment at such low tensions. It does create a springier string bed, which can cause control issues. Pros can compensate by revving up the RPMs to create more spin, but that’s not always an option for the weekend warrior. Still, if you’re using a stiffer, control string, dropping the tension is a smart way to mitigate some of the harsh feedback while getting easier depth from the softer string bed.
Another thing to consider along with the tension, is restringing frequency. If you’re snapping your strings at a regular clip, then it’s not an issue. However, most players use their strings well past their expiration date. And in the case of polyester strings, they tend to degrade quicker with use and time, often stretching extensively before breaking. As they lose resiliency, the strings absorb less of the impact, while requiring the user to swing harder to produce customary power. Both consequences will take a toll on arm health.
Add it up and stringing lower and more often are both wise choices when trying to remedy an aching wrist.