Table Tennis is not a sport that is general considered to include a high risk of injury. It’s non-contact, indoors and doesn’t involve anywhere near as much movement as other sports such as tennis, badminton or squash. However, injuries are still relatively common. I know this personally having injured myself playing British League this Saturday and having to pull out of the games on Sunday.
Another point to consider is that table tennis players often keep playing much later into life than those of many other sports. Pop along to any local league match and you’ll see what I mean. It’s great that we can keep playing our sport as we get older but it does mean we need to think more seriously about the types of injuries we could pick up.
So what are the most common types of injuries in table tennis and what can we do to avoid them? I’ve searched the web looking for answers and this is what I’ve found.
The Most Common Injury is…
Muscle strains. I strained my tricep on Saturday and it was the first time I’d ever really injured myself playing. Muscle strains are usually caused by the lack of a proper warm-up. We all know that it’s important to get our muscles warm before playing but perhaps we don’t realise just how quickly they get cold again. I always do quite a comprehensive warm-up when I arrive at training or a tournament and I did so on Saturday.The problem comes when you warm-up, play a match, and then sit down for 90 minutes until your next match.
On Saturday, the hall was quite cold. I had been inactive for quite a long period of time watching and coaching my team mates. I then got up, took my tracksuit off and jumped on the table, without any thought for doing another warm-up. This was the problem. I often see the top juniors get up five minutes before they are due to go on and go into the corridor to start warming up, ‘shadowing shots’ and the like. Perhaps this is something I’m going to need to incorporate into my routine.
If we are properly warmed-up we should be fine reaching for those wide balls and quickly twisting and turning our body to finish off points. If we’re not warmed-up, and especially if the hall is cold, we’re kind of just waiting for a strain to happen.
But There is a Problem…
And the problem is all about how we think others will perceive us. It’s easy to say we should do a warm-up and it’s a good idea to ‘shadow’ some shots before we go on the table but often once we arrive at the venue we talk ourselves out of it.
Because we think we’ll look silly. It’s fine for the top players and the juniors to do long warm-ups around their tables before they start (we even look over and admire their professionalism) but wont people think we’re a bit odd if we start doing it? There seems to be a bit of an attitude in table tennis that goes something like, “He’s a bit keen” if you see a player doing a proper warm-up. It’s almost as if warm-ups at tournaments (and by warm-up I mean a proper physical warm-up not just knocking) have become exclusive something for the elite players and you need to be of a certain standard to get away with doing one and not looking a fool.
Can we change this? Maybe. Can you do a warm-up anyway even if people are thinking you’re taking it all a bit too seriously? Definitely! And you have the last laugh when they’re injured.
Other Common Injuries
An ITTF research paper looked at the most common areas of injury in table tennis players. Here are the top 5.
- Lower back
- Knee joint
- Wrist joint
- Shoulder joint
- Ankle joint
It appears that the main joints of the arms and legs are most susceptible to injury. This can often be caused by overuse or poor technique. I believe this is especially true in shoulder injuries. We really shouldn’t be using too much shoulder in our shots. Players with poor technique using lots of shoulder instead of general weight transfer, or playing with a very stiff/tense arm, are much more likely to see these types of injuries.
The weight-bearing nature of table tennis and the focus on lots of small, quick movements can lead to problems in the knees and ankles. You’ll see lots of older players with their knees strapped up. We must be careful not to put too much pressure on the knees, especially when they are leaning over to one side.
How to Stop ‘Little Niggles’ from Becoming Chronic Injuries
We are all likely to get injured playing table tennis at some point. Yes, prevention is better than cure but I think we kind of just have to accept that. What we can do though is prevent a minor injury from becoming a chronic one that stops us playing altogether. Many top players have been forced to retire by a chronic injury which could have been prevented.
The key is unfortunately rest. A shoulder injury, if rested properly, should go away after a few weeks to a few months. Yes, it frustrating not being able to play during this time but once it’s gone you can get back to playing again. The alternative is to keep playing with your injured shoulder and hope it’ll be fine but what you’re doing here is really taking a huge gamble. It may still go away on it’s own or it may become a chronic injury, one that does not go away.
I think this is most important point to make. We may still get injured even if we always warm-up and have correct technique and plan a training diary so that we avoid over-training However, we should be able to prevent an injury from becoming a chronic injury. Be patient and keep you eyes on the long-term. It’s better to miss a couple of months now, than have to stop playing completely later on down the road.