Prior to the French Open a few months ago, Rafael Nadal had only recently unseated Roger Federer as the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Then, at Roland Garros, a site where Nadal has been dominant, his knees, both of them, said, “no more!”
He withdrew from the French Open in the fourth round. He tried to have a go at defending his Wimbledon title, but was unable to compete. Now, after much needed recuperation, and a drop to number three in the rankings, he’s back.
Nadal suffered tendinitis, a common injury attributed to overuse, in both knees. For a professional athlete, even a seemingly minor injury could be enough to derail a career temporarily, or permanently. For Nadal, the extent to which his career will be affected is still unknown. In his Aug. 12 return in Montreal, he lost in straight sets to Juan Martin del Potro, and left analysts and friends scratching their heads as to why he lost so convincingly. The tendinitis may have been gone, but his finely tuned game was also missing.
Overuse injuries, such as tendinitis, tennis elbow, and a host of others, can affect anyone, not just professional athletes. Household chores, daily activities, and inactivity, can cause muscle imbalances that lead to such ailments. Tendinitis can occur at any point in the body where the thick fibers, or tendons, that attach muscle to bones become inflamed.
Amateur and recreational athletes can also be affected, potentially being the most susceptible and at the highest risk of overuse injury. Professionals like Rafael Nadal have access to and, in order to reach the top of their sport, must follow a fitness regimen that potentially prevents and minimizes injury. Conditioning for the amateur is not, in many cases, a priority. According to fitness and rehabilitation expert, Dr. Robert Donatelli, conditioning is imperative. “The athlete must possess sufficient strength in hip and trunk muscles that provide stability in all planes of motion,” says Donatelli. “Strength training is the best form of prevention of muscle imbalances and overuse injuries.”
Could Nadal’s injury have been prevented? Possibly, but the bigger questions now are how much damage has been done to his career and does he have within him a source of strength that will enable him to make it back.
Let’s hope so.