An Exposé on The Ruined Feet of Professional Tennis Players
Posted by Jenn F. on Friday, April 5th, 2013
They’re trim, toned, bronzed, and impossibly photogenic. They travel the world, performing for dignitaries, celebrities, and rock stars. They play a gentleman’s game. And yet, beneath that shimmering veneer, there is something sinister afoot… Literally. Tennis players have some of the gnarliest feet of all athletes, except maybe ballerinas. Their feet endure immense daily punishment on very hard surfaces. They pivot and sprint, leap and dive, using every fiber of their muscle, stretching their tendons and ligaments to their breaking points. And those tendons and ligaments do break. Often.
“James Blake is a beautiful man,” the former player Justin Gimelstob said, “but his feet are disgusting.”
The New York Times describes one tennis player’s feet after a long, grueling workout as “fresh hamburger.” Ew. That hamburgery foot was festooned with calluses and corns, bunions and blisters, capped off with ingrown, blackened toenails. Honestly, this is a grim podiatric world I knew little about. Tennis seems so dainty, so fresh and clean and rigidly ruled, I never imagined it would be uniquely hellish for feet. It’s like speaking before a crowd and realizing you’re naked, except in this case you’re playing tennis and the posh Wimbledon crowd realizes your feet are raw ground chuck.
It’s the fast movement and quick changes of direction that really makes tennis so punishing. Players don’t have time to gradually adjust their stance or shift their weight. Instead, they’re springing to action with lightning-quick reflexes, putting enormous pressure on the feet. And they’re doing it day after day, for many hours at a time. Tournaments in tennis are notoriously demanding. Players don’t have much time to recover between matches, and the matches can go on and on when the points are tied up. So any small injury gets amplified and compounded by other injuries. Damaged cartilage forms scar tissue that can affect mobility. The plantar fascia suffers microtears daily. The Achilles tendon stretches and aches. Stress fractures riddle the bones. And many players ignore pain when quick treatment could have prevented more serious injury.
While many of these injuries are serious and potentially career ending, the more benign day-to-day stuff can be just as devastating for a player who relies on speed. Blisters may sound like no big deal, and indeed players like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have faced ridicule for stopping matches for them, but the pain of blisters can be intense. Blisters have often meant the difference between victory and defeat on the courts. Keeping feet dry, wearing high-quality socks, breaking in shoes, and working to keep feet balanced can help prevent blisters. But after hours of sweaty, break-neck tennis, even the best foot care may fail to keep delicate skin intact. I think tennis players deserve a whole lot more respect for their toughness. It’s not all cute skirts and photo ops!
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.