Young tennis prodigies who are trained intensely run the risk of damage to their spines, some of the damage could be irreparable, says a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

In this study 33 young tennis players underwent a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan – none of them showed any symptoms of pain. The scans revealed problems in 28 of them. They showed a variety of spinal abnormalities in the lower back – some of the damage is irreparable, said the authors.

The participants were aged 16-23 and all attended a national tennis centre.

The following abnormalities showed up:

— spinal disc degeneration
herniated discs
— complete fractures
stress fractures (pars lesions)
— of ten par lesions, nine were complete fractures
— 23 players had early signs of arthropathy (diseased facet joint). This was causing moderate/permanent degeneration in 9 of them

The authors pointed out at that the rate of facet joint arthropathy among those young tennis players, at 70%, is four/five times higher than the general population.

Here are some other findings:

— 20 of them had signs of skin hardening
— 24 had bone overgrowth
— 10 had cysts in the synovial joint fluid
— 13 players had disks that were drying out as a result of poor lubrication
— 13 players had disks bulging out

As a tennis player’s success depends greatly on how well he/she does during his/her junior years, they are spending more and more time playing and training at a young age, said the report. The authors added that intensive training while the body (bones) are still growing is associated with injury and musculoskeletal complications. The most common type of tennis injuries are those to the trunk, followed by arms and then legs.

The authors said tennis requires much more repetitive and rapid rotation and stretching of the lower spine, when compared to other sports. Add to this the increased speeds and types of strokes used today, wearing and tearing the lower back even more.

The authors say training techniques should be altered so that the risk of progressive musculoskeletal damage is kept to a minimum.

“MRI findings in the lumbar spines of asymptomatic, adolescent, elite tennis players”
British Journal of Sports Medicine; doi 10.1136/bjsm.2007.037747

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today