The Rise of Arm Friendly Tennis StringsSteve Crandall
It’s a story we’re hearing more and more these days: A young high-performance junior player training for an important tournament has to cut way back on their playing time – or drop out completely – because of chronic elbow, shoulder or wrist pain. It used to be that the dreaded ‘tennis elbow’ was a malady suffered by veteran players, seniors, or tennis fanatics who simply could not get enough. Now with high-tech polyester strings and “spin” being all the rage, stress related wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries are being suffered by an increasing number of players across the board, including juniors.
Fortunately, many of these stories now have happy endings when these players switch to softer playing, more ‘arm friendly’ strings.
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is not exclusive to tennis players, but according to some estimates, upwards of 50% of active tennis players will suffer from it at some point in their careers. Characterized by pain, soreness, and/or weakness in the outside of the upper forearm near the elbow, tennis elbow afflicts both men and women players, and until recently was considered to be two to four times more prevalent in players over 40.
But lately we’ve been seeing a startling increase in tennis elbow, as well as wrist and shoulder issues, among competitive junior players. Tennis elbow results when repetitive twisting, stress or shock to the wrist causes small tears to develop in the forearm tendon that attaches to the elbow. Often a strong backhand is the worst culprit. Poor technique is another factor, but according to a 2008 Mayo Clinic study cited in Wikipedia, playing time is perhaps the biggest factor, especially for younger players: “Increased incidence with increased playing time is statistically significant only for respondents under 40. Individuals over 40 who played over two hours had a two-fold increase in chance of injury. Those under 40 had a 3.5 times increase compared to those who played less than two hours per day.”
Thus it appears that younger players, while more resilient, are also more susceptible to injury. Either that, or the only senior players who can last longer than two hours are the really tough ones! (The rest of us have long since started exercising our elbows in other ways.)
Increased playing time translates directly into increased impact shock from ball strikes, especially off center hits. Impact shock exacerbates all of the known risk factors, and today’s high-tech polyester and co-polyester strings, because of their inherent stiffness, are well known to increase impact shock. As a string manufacturer we hear complaints about this from customers all the time. One player noted that playing with poly string was about as comfortable as “hitting a brick wall with a baseball bat.”
And in the last few years, more and more junior players have begun using poly and co-poly strings to generate more spin and improve their baseline game. The result is more wrist and shoulder injuries, and more tennis elbow.
We and many leading stringers recommend switching to a softer, more arm friendly string to alleviate or reduce the risk of such injuries. Natural gut has always been the benchmark for soft playing strings, but some of the newer high-tech materials like Zyex® are also known to lessen impact shock.
But it’s not just a question of a softer string. Players don’t just want a soft string, they want one that helps improve their game. Zyex-based strings like MonoGut® ZX line offer several advantages over polyesters in this regard as well.
First, Zyex is a soft, arm friendly string material. Second, it has excellent dynamic stiffness, which, in addition to softness, generates tremendous power. We call it ‘Soft Power.’ Third, Zyex in monofilament form, like our MonoGut ZX, offers spin potential which is right up there with polyesters. Finally, Zyex-based strings offer excellent durability and have natural tension holding characteristics that keep them fresh in your racquet far longer than other materials.
Here’s what Geoff McKee, stringer and father of one high performing junior, said of his daughter’s experience:
“Clare had been a top 10 junior in Florida. At the age of 12, she had to drop to 6 hours a week on court due to wrist and elbow tendonitis. Her growth spurt and joint hyper-mobility worsened the tendonitis. Soft strings helped, but south Florida humidity and damp clay courts shortened the life of gut strings to about 3 hours. Having noticed that Tennis Warehouse rated Ashaway MonoGut ZX Pro as the softest non-gut string, I had my daughter try it and she liked it right away. She has built up to 24 hours a week on court and has been injury-free since she began using Ashaway MZX Pro 17 months ago. In addition to being the softest non-gut, Ashaway is much more lively than any string that is of comparable durability. I string her racquets at 58 mains, 57 crosses, matching the tension I used for natural gut.”
We offer two versions of our Zyex-based MonoGut tennis strings, 16 gauge (1.27 mm) MonoGut ZX, and 17 gauge (1.22 mm) MonoGut ZX Pro. MonoGut ZX Pro is a thinner lighter string, designed to provide even better elongation, snap-back and playability for players who do not require the added durability of a 16 gauge string. Both strings offer 100% Zyex monofilament construction, which provides exceptional dynamic stiffness and gut-like playability. The total lack of polyester increases elongation and decreases stiffness for comfortable soft power.
MonoGut ZX and MonoGut ZX Pro are designed for players seeking both gut-like playability and superior durability in a solid monofilament string, as well as for players using monofilament strings in hybrid stringing patterns. MonoGut ZX and MonoGut ZX Pro come in either a natural gut-like tan or fiery red. They are available in 40-ft (12 m) sets and in both 360-ft (110 m) and 720-ft (220 m) reels. Recommended stringing tension is up to 60 lbs. (27 kgs)
Many players afflicted with tennis elbow – senior as well as junior – have found relief by switching to softer, more arm friendly strings. Our MonoGut ZX is certainly not a cure for tennis elbow. Only rest and restorative therapy can do that. But it certainly can help prevent the malady, and may also improve your game. Says Clare McKee, “I like Ashaway MonoGut ZX Pro because my arm doesn’t hurt when I use it and it is powerful.”