Coach Samson Dubina US National Team Coach 4x USATT Coach of the Year

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5 Common Ping Pong Injuries and How You Can Avoid Them

By Sam Rosario

Sam Rosario requested that I post his coaching article.  Check it out below...
5 Common Ping Pong Injuries and How You Can Avoid Them
Few people consider ping pong – also known as table tennis - to be a sport that comes with a high risk of injury.
After all, how much pain can batting around a light plastic ball really cause?
The answer to that, at least in my case is: quite a bit.
I’ve got a perpetually sprained left ankle, an occasionally achy back, and have dealt with “tennis elbow” flareups in the past.
So yes, while ping pong is a non-contact sport that is played indoors and involves far less movement than related sports such as lawn tennis, squash or badminton, ping pong injuries are fairly common.
Even a prolific player like Samson will tell you that.
Something else you should consider is that people keep playing ping pong much later into their lives than they would do with most other physical sports. It is great to know that we can keep playing our favorite sport as you get older (I even play once a week with my grandfather), but it also means that you also have to think seriously about which kinds of injuries you are likely to pick up.
With that being said, what are the most common ping pong injuries and how can you avoid them?
1. Ankle Sprain
Most ping pong players who have been active in the sport for a while will have to contend with ankle sprain injuries resulting from intensive play. You need to realize right from the start that table tennis is a weight bearing game that can have severe effects on the lower body without warning. This is an injury that you might pick up when you make a sharp turn or if you put excessive effort into your stroke when not completely balanced.
Unlike other ping pong injuries, sprained ankles are acute. Because of this, you should reduce the amount of energy you use when making quick or unpredictable movements. Instead, try to get into a ready position as soon as you deliver a shot. Also, you should seek treatment from a physiotherapist instead of trying to take care of a sprain by yourself.
Do whatever you can to avoid spraining your ankle in the first place, because in my experience, they become way easier to roll after your first sprain.
2. Knee Injury
Knee injuries are very similar to ankle sprains since they result from the quick, unpredictable movements that a player makes when they deliver a shot or save a point by trying to do a little more than they actually can. It is also a common training injury.
To lessen the chance of getting a knee injury, work on quickly getting back into a ready position to receive the return after making a shot. If it has happened before, it is a sign that, soon enough, you are likely to be in that position. When you do, avoid throwing yourself at a shot, since it will only aggravate the injury. Have your physiotherapist examine your knee.
3. Tennis Elbow
Similar to the two injuries above, an elbow strain or tennis elbow results from poor playing technique. For instance, if you overextend your elbow during a backhand shot, you are likely to injure it. At times, the injury is made worse if your delivery is poor. In this case, the energy fires back into either your wrist or your elbow, causing injury.
An injury to your elbow can be severe and it could take a very long time before it heals properly. This is the reason why you should never ignore any pain that you feel as a result of playing ping pong. What makes it even more important to learn the proper technique and always consult a doctor or physio at the first sign of trouble is the fact that elbow injuries are usually more severe if you have accumulated them over a long period of time.
4. Shoulder Pain
Your body’s most mobile joint when playing table tennis is your elbow. Because this joint is continuously exposed to a wide range of motions and movements, it is the most likely one of them all to get injured, especially if you have been playing for several hours. Besides the effect of playing for long hours, if you consistently overuse a specific technique or apply a particular technique in the wrong way, you are likely to injure your shoulder.
In fact, you do not need to put so much pressure on your shoulder when playing ping pong, since energy is used more efficiently if evenly distributed from your center of mass. Improving your general weight transfer and honing your technique will help you avoid shoulder injury.
5. Calf Strain
A calf strain mostly occurs when a player uses their calf muscles excessively during a game without taking time out to rest. In fact, you do not even have to be playing at all; just standing for a long period before or in-between games is enough work to cause injury. When you factor in the deliberate quick twists and turns you make during a game, then you are a prime candidate for calf strain.
Calf strains can be avoided by getting some rest during practice sessions or during tournaments. You should then intersperse periods of intense play and the moments of rest with light warmup exercises to gently strengthen your calves and prepare them for the challenge of a competitive game.
The Final Word
At some point, we are all likely to suffer from one of the injuries above when playing ping pong. However, what we can do is stop minor issues from becoming chronic injuries which may eventually prevent us from playing altogether. Following the tips above and visiting a physiotherapist or doctor any time you experience discomfort is the surest way to be sure that you continue playing your favorite sport for years to come.
About the Author:
Sam is a writer at BPPTR, aspiring sports medicine graduate, and a foosball and ping pong table fan with a bad left ankle but a mean backhand!