It was Labor Day weekend of 2015 , and I was in Tennessee playing in a tennis tournament. While playing, I suddenly could not bend over very well. I could hardly walk, twist or turn. I didn’t know it at the time but I had 3 stress fractures in my back potentially from how quickly I had grown in a year and a half. At that time I was playing about 18 hours a week on average, and in the summer I played a little more. My back had been hurting off and on for about a year, but I was going to physical therapy once a week throughout that time which seemed to be helping. Previously I experienced tightness in my back but the tightness would come and go. It would hurt for a few days and after physical therapy would feel better. However, I was always nervous because I never knew when it would come back. I had heard of other tennis players with back issues but I didn’t think mine was as serious. During that match on Labor Day weekend, my parents pulled me off after the first set and I defaulted the tournament. Oddly enough the next day I felt fine. I could do everything and my flexibility came back. I even went to tennis practice.
That random alteration in my performance is what led my mother to setting up an appointment. In October I had an x-ray taken of my back and was told that there was an area of concern in my lower spine, so I was sent for and MRI to get a better image. The results came back soon after and I was told that I had stress fractures in my back. My parents picked me up from practice as soon as they got the news and I had to stop all activity immediately. I was shocked. It didn’t seem like It could be possible because I had been feeling fine, but my back was broken!
My parents started doing research trying to find a doctor with specific experience in helping tennis players with injuries like mine, and they learned about Neeru Jayanthi, MD at the Emory Sports Medicine Center. My mother called and asked for Dr. Jayanthi and scheduled an appointment since he was tennis specific. The process was amazing. We were excited and blown away by the response time. An appointment was scheduled within a few days!
During the office visit, Dr. Jayanthi mapped out a plan. As part of the Emory Sports Medicine Tennis program, I was taken to a fitness center to see if there were any flaws in my strokes that may have caused the fractures.
This was the first specialized doctor that I had seen who did an on court evaluation with me, and he gave me confidence that I would be able to return to playing. The one-on-one hands-on evaluation and interaction was great, and it was very helpful to have a step by step plan for returning to the court.
I am more capable of and doing more now than I ever imagined compared to what I was able to do when I first got the shocking news. I have increased my flexibility, core strength and upper body strength. I don’t rely on my back as much as I did before and I have a much greater sense of freedom when it comes to being on the court, knowing that I will not get hurt again.
It’s been a tough experience but I feel much stronger in many ways because of it. I recommend any athlete struggling with back pain to have it looked at quickly. I waited a while thinking that it was just muscle soreness and growing pains when in fact I had fractures in my back.
A note from Dr. Jayanthi
On court evaluations are performed by Dr. Jayanthi (who is also USPTA-certified teaching professional) most commonly on junior/elite level tennis players who are looking to optimally return to competitive tennis while reducing their future risk of injury to identify any opportunities for modifying strokes to accommodate for an injury.
This is typically done on the tennis court, after a medical evaluation to identify the specific medical deficits, and then coupled with a research survey, video analysis and then progressions to help modify strokes and then return to tennis effectively. If there are any notable deficits or any more significant changes to strokes, these are often communicated to the teaching professional/coach. We follow these players at 6 months and at 1 year to assess their injury and performance status.
About Dr. Jayanthi
Neeru Jayanthi, MD, is considered one of the country’s leading experts in youth sports health, injuries and sports training patterns, as well as an international leader in tennis medicine. He is currently the President of the International Society for Tennis Medicine and Science (STMS) and a certified USPTA tennis teaching professional. He previously was the medical director of primary care sports medicine at Loyola University Chicago prior to being recruited to Emory, where he will lead an innovative tennis medicine program.
Dr. Jayanthi’s practice is open to all children and adults with non-surgical issues related to activity and sports. He particularly loves working with young athletes of all sports, and