Arthritis and Tennis

handFlorida tennis pro friend Larry Albritton writes: “George, Do you have any information about tennis players who have arthritis in their hands and what adjustments they might need to make in grip size and /or other modifications?”

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons…
The hand and wrist have multiple small joints that work together to produce motion, including the fine motion needed to thread a needle or tie a shoelace. When the joints are affected by arthritis, activities of daily living can be difficult. Arthritis can occur in many areas of the hand and wrist and can have more than one cause.
Over time, if the arthritis is not treated, the bones that make up the joint can lose their normal shape. This causes more pain and further limits motion.

What is Arthritis?

Simply defined, arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but there are more than 100 different forms.
Healthy joints move easily because of a smooth, slippery tissue called articular cartilage. Cartilage covers the ends of bones and provides a smooth gliding surface for the joint. This smooth surface is lubricated by a fluid that looks and feels like oil. It is produced by the joint lining called synovium.


Early symptoms of arthritis of the hand include joint pain that may feel “dull,” or a “burning” sensation. The pain often occurs after periods of increased joint use, such as heavy gripping or grasping. The pain may not be present immediately, but may show up hours later or even the following day. Morning pain and stiffness are typical.
As the cartilage wears away and there is less material to provide shock absorption, the symptoms occur more frequently. In advanced disease, the joint pain may wake you up at night.
Pain might be made worse with use and relieved by rest. Many people with arthritis complain of increased joint pain with rainy weather. Activities that once were easy, such as opening a jar or starting the car, become difficult due to pain.


Arthritis does not have to result in a painful or sedentary life. It is important to seek help early so that treatment can begin and you can return to doing what matters most to you.
Treatment options for arthritis of the hand and wrist include medication, splinting, injections, and surgery, and are determined based on a number of lifestyle factors.

Medications treat symptoms but cannot restore joint cartilage or reverse joint damage. The most common medications for arthritis are anti-inflammatories, which stop the body from producing chemicals that cause joint swelling and pain. Examples of anti-inflammatory drugs include medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are widely advertised dietary supplements or “neutraceuticals.” Neutraceuticals are not drugs. Rather, they are compounds that are the “building blocks” of cartilage. They were originally used by veterinarians to treat arthritic hips in dogs. However, neutraceuticals have not yet been studied as a treatment of hand and wrist arthritis.

But back to Larry’s question… what kind of tennis-related steps can help:

• Bigger/smaller grip size?
• Lighter racquet?
• Stroke changes?

Any experience or helpful thoughts??

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8 thoughts on “Arthritis and Tennis

  1. George, you have presented an excellent summary of arthritis of the hand.
    With regard to grip size and racquet weight, trial and error is the best solution since there is so much individual variation in arthritis.
    As far as stroke changes, trying a two handed backhand, and/or forehand, might help because of the extra support on the strokes.

    Dr. Michael, thanks for the input and i look forward to seeing you next thursday in VT! george

  2. I ‘enjoy’ the osteo variety in both hands & my right wrist, dammit. I don’t bother with any medication other than an occasional dosage of Ibuprofen when the pain kicks in. Sometimes I find it eases after a few games, so maybe I should warm up more/longer beforehand, but that only tires me out ! Just so long as I can keep going – after all tennis is a game for life, & I live for the game (& a few other things) !
    Have a good summer George.
    Best, Howard

    Howard: my favorite quote from George Bernard Shaw…”You don’t stop playing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop playing.” george

  3. now you have to address rotater cuff tears and how to serve without getting surgery……

    I’ve had cortisone and pt…..any other solutions

    what have other guys done….thanks, Sal

    Sal, good future topic! thanks. george

  4. A couple of thoughts:

    1). There is some recent research suggesting a possible correlation between rheumatoid arthritis and increased magnetic activity from the sun. See

    2). The sun connection only is indicated to be applicable to RA (and giant cell arteritis) and not osteoarthritis. But I have to wonder if there may also be an osteo connection too.

    3). I periodically get extreme pain in my right (tennis) hand that comes and goes without any discernible cause and effect. In other words, I can get it even if the weather is high pressure or low pressure, stormy or sunny, and anything in between. I can get it if I have not picked up a racquet in days or even weeks, or right after I have played. When it happens, the pain is so severe that I literally cannot shake hands with anybody, so I will resort to a fist pump and explain politely that my hand is very sore. Even taking as many as 4 or 5 Advil barely relieves the pain when it is at its most severity. Strangely, if I manage to suffer through the pain, holding a tennis racquet actually HELPS the pain subside most times that it occurs. However, just as suddenly as the pain comes, it also goes away. I can then spend weeks if not months with no pain at all but it will suddenly rematerialize. I suppose I should go to a doctor to have this checked out, but offhand has anybody who reads this encountered something similar?

  5. I have arthritis in fingers of both hands. The occupational therapist I went to about four years ago at New London Hospital recommended going down to a smaller grip. I find that it has helped a lot.

    Susie, thks! george

  6. Marty-

    I have something very similar, randomly the bones in the middle of my hand (not fingers or wrist) act up and it is intensely painful, I can’t hold a racquet at all. It sometimes lasts a day or it could be a couple of weeks. There isn’t any warning and it could be months or even years before it acts up (I haven’t had it for about a year and a half now….but any day it could strike!).

    I’ve gone to several doctors and they can’t find anything wrong, the usual answer is that I’ve played a lot of tennis in my life and that it probably is just “wear and tear” in my hand (not sure what to believe since I’ve had this off and on since my mid 30’s). Sorry I’m not more help!

  7. Thanks Jeff. Your issue sounds almost exactly like my issue. I should add that I now recall that I did have my hand looked at by an orthopedic doctor about 10 years back or so who took an x-ray and told me there was evidence of old scarring from a small bone that got broken in my hand many years back that apparently was never treated. The doctor told me there was evidence of old calcification. I had to wrack my brain for when this may have occurred, but I eventually recalled getting into a fight in my teens where I got jumped by a bully at a teen dance and I had to fight my way out of the problem. I ended it by punching the bully in the face, cracking his occipital bone, and he went down like a sack of potatoes. However, my hand hurt like hell for about 6 months afterward and I did not want to tell my parents what happened so I just pretended nothing was wrong. I even played a whole season of tennis on my high school team — apparently with an unknown break to a bone in my hand — and just toughed it out. So, maybe that old injury could have something to do with my current problem, or maybe not.

  8. Marty,

    Your teen hand injury sounds like a “boxer’s fracture” and sometimes goes undiagnosed because the other bones in the hand splint the fracture on their own. However, if not treated correctly at the time, the vascular supply can be compromised, which can lead to complications later in life. Vascular issues often present themselves in unique and various ways similar to what you describe. Usually, proper warm-up is the best remedy and avoiding certain actions that can exacerbate the problem. Bottom line is if the pain only occurs occasionally and does not sustain for long periods of time, the best advice is “SUCK IT UP!”

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