Racquetball requires quick directional changes and repetitive movements to gain advantage over an opponent and react to a ball that can fly as fast as 135 mph. Your elbows, eyes, shoulders, hands, wrists, knees and ankles are all vulnerable to injury. Common injuries fall into the categories of traumatic -- such as when a ball hits your face -- or chronic -- such as an aching elbow due to overuse.
Swinging racquets and flying balls bring the potential for serious injury due to collisions with equipment, the court and other players. Ball and racquet strikes to the face present significant risk, especially to the eyes. According to Dr. Mark Sibley of the Florida Eye Center, racquet sports account for the majority of sports-related eye injuries. Protective eye wear can help prevent serious eye trauma which can result in permanent blindness. Collision with your opponent, the floor or a wall is another possible way to suffer bumps and bruises, or more serious injuries -- such tendon, muscle and ligament tears -- during a game.
Sprains and Tears
Changing direction quickly to follow a fast-moving ball increases the risk that you could twist or sprain an ankle. Ankle sprains can range from grade I, which involve microscopic tearing, to grade III, which involve tearing of more than 90 percent of the ankle ligament. Improper footwear can increase your risk of spraining your ankle; you want a shoe that is designed to move laterally as well as forward and back. Sudden, forceful swinging of the racquet or a blow to the front of the shoulder can lead to a torn or strained rotator cuff. This mix of muscles and tendons enables the shoulder to move with ease. When strained, you may experience symptoms ranging from mild pain to near immobility, depending on the severity.
Your rotator cuff is also vulnerable to tendinitis due to overuse. Tendinitis means your muscles and ligaments are inflamed and aggravated, so you experience soreness and weakness -- particularly when raising your arms. You may be playing racquetball, but you can also develop tennis elbow -- also known as lateral epicondylitis -- a painful inflammation of tendons and muscles in the elbow as a result of overuse. Constant swinging of the racket can irritate the outer edge of the forearm muscles and connective tissues where they insert into the elbow joint.
Reduce Your Risk
Smart play and proper equipment can help prevent injury on the court. Always wear certified eye protection -- eyeglasses do not provide protection from injury. Always play with proper safety equipment and a racquet appropriate for your size. Have your racquet restrung regularly as improper tension can contribute to stress on the elbow and shoulder joints. Warm up before matches with light cardio activity and dynamic stretching. Cool down afterwards to reduce post-game stiffness. Ease into a heavy playing schedule when you're first starting out or coming back from a hiatus. Doing too much too soon sets you up for injury.