Tennis doesn’t hurt your back

The Isico study “Adolescent agonistic tennis and spinal diseases, what’s the connection? Results from a cross-sectional study” contradicted the idea that asymmetrical sports are harmful: in the literature, tennis, like other asymmetrical sports, is considered a possible cause of back pain and, in the worst cases, a cause of worsening scoliosis.

“Tennis is played by many adolescents the world over” says Dr Fabio Zaina, an Isico physiatrist and author of the study, “and despite the lack of available relevant data, it has always been considered risky for individuals affected by scoliosis, and in any case a cause of back pain. We set out to verify whether spinal disorders really are more common in competitive tennis players compared with those who do not practice this sport”.

The study compared 100 competitive tennis players (50 girls) with 200 young students of the same age (12 years). The data collected showed no differences between the two groups. 

“Another study of ours has already shown that swimming, which has always been considered one of the best sports for those with back pain or scoliotic postures, can in fact induce back pain”  – Dr Zaina points out – “In that study, we therefore disproved a commonly held belief, just as we have done here. Another aspect worth taking into account is that nowadays players usually use very lightweight racquets, and there is also much more recourse to compensatory gymnastics. All this means that asymmetrical exertion is much less of a problem than it was in the past”.

So what is the ideal sport we should be getting our kids to practice?

There is no such thing as an ideal sport”  – Dr Zaina tells us – “However, there are a few things we can say, namely: there are no prohibitions with regard to who can participate in asymmetrical sports; swimming is not a panacea for all ills; artistic and rhythmic gymnastics can encourage the progression of curves or give rise to back pain in those who are already predisposed to these problems; and, finally, neither soccer nor volleyball present particular problems. Obviously, we recommend that individuals with a family history of scoliosis have specialist check-ups, at least from the age of nine years onwards, and as a rule we suggest they avoid, if possible, those sports that can favour the progression of scoliotic curves.

Basically, we need to remember that the best thing is to get plenty of physical exercise, while bearing in mind that sports involving considerable mobilisation of the spine (artistic and rhythmic gymnastics and swimming, for example) will put us at greater risk, especially if there is a predisposition there, whereas weight-bearing sports will help us to strengthen the spine as they require us to overcome the force of gravity”.

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