By Alison Johnson
• Wear the right footgear. Choose tennis shoes with skid- resistant soles and high arch support, which will guard against pain and inflammation near your heel. Heel inserts or special socks also can absorb shock on hard court surfaces and protect the lower back. A salesperson at an athletic store can help.
• Use the right racquet. Ask a professional for advice on a racquet's overall size, grip and string tension. Smaller heads and very tight strings, for example, require more force from forearm muscles and can lead to inflammation and tissue tears known as tennis elbow.
• Avoid old balls. Aim to replace balls as soon as they start to lose their bounce. If you've had arm and shoulder problems, never play with wet balls (or in very windy conditions).
• Work out your arms. Stretching and toning arm muscles off the court will guard against tennis elbow and other injuries. Swimming is one great way to do that. Note: Overall body conditioning through exercise such as jogging, cycling and strength training also is important.
• Get help. Ask a tennis instructor for tips on proper stroke techniques. Bending your arm the correct way when you hit overhead serves and groundstrokes, for example, will decrease stress on your elbow.
Warm up. Take about 10 minutes to walk, jog, stretch and go through the motions of tennis strokes before hitting a ball. Cold muscles are tighter and more prone to injury.
• Survey the court. Clean off leaves, debris, wet patches and loose balls before you start a match to avoid slipping.
• Be smart. If you get hurt, follow a doctor's recommendations on rest, ice, elevation and use of a brace. Elbow injuries in particular can be difficult to fix once they become chronic, and some require surgery.