Age-Related, Sport-Specific Adaptions of the Shoulder Girdle in Elite Adolescent Tennis Players

Tennis demands repetitive overhead movements that can lead to upper extremity injury. The scapula and the shoulder play a critical role in injury-free playing. Scapular dysfunction and glenohumeral changes in strength and range of motion (ROM) have been associated with shoulder injury in the overhead athlete. The objective of this study was to compare scapular position and strength and shoulder ROM and strength between elite, Swedish tennis players of 3 age categories (16 years). Fifty-nine adolescent Swedish, elite tennis players (ages 10-20 years) selected based on their national ranking took part in the study. The study employed a clinical screening protocol with a digital inclinometer and a handheld dynamometer to measure scapular upward rotation at several angles of arm elevation, isometric scapular muscle strength, glenohumeral ROM, and isometric rotator cuff strength. Players older than 16 years exhibited less scapular upward rotation on the dominant side at 90° and 180° (P < .05). Although all absolute scapular muscle strength values increased with age, there was no change in the bodyweight-normalized strength of the middle (P = .9) and lower (P = .81) trapezius or serratus anterior (P = .17). Glenohumeral internal-rotation ROM and total ROM tended to decrease, but this finding was not statistically significant (P = .052 and P = .06, respectively). Whereas normalized internal-rotator strength increased from 14 to 16 years to older than 16 years (P = 0.009), normalized external-rotator and supraspinatus strength remained unchanged.

Age-related changes in shoulder and scapular strength and ROM were evident in elite adolescent tennis players. Future authors should investigate the association of these adaptations with performance data and injury incidence.