A shoulder injury sidelined Ajla Tomljanovic for over a year. (Ajla Tomljanovic/Twitter)

"My shoulder hurts when I serve."

"My shoulder pain wakes me up if I roll over on that side during the night."

Those are two of the most common statements made by tennis players complaining of shoulder and upper arm pain. If either situation describes you, stop playing and ice your shoulder several times a day for 20 minutes for the first three days.

Always seek out a sports medicine doctor or sports physical therapist to get a correct diagnosis and treatment plan.

Although there can be several origins of pain that presents itself in the front, back and/or side of the shoulder, the primary culprit is inflammation and/or structural injury of the rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff consist of four muscles within the shoulder, connecting the upper arm (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula). The rotator cuff provides stability for the shoulder joint and is responsible for rotating the arm both internally and externally.

Most tennis players who experience shoulder pain present with one or more of the following issues:

  • Poor posture
  • Decreased flexibility of the shoulder joint
  • Decreased strength of the muscles of the shoulder joint
  • Decreased motion and/or strength of the shoulder blade (scapula)
  • Improper tennis mechanics (usually the serve and/or forehand)

Once you have been cleared to begin rehab, restoring flexibility in your shoulder is crucial before beginning any strength training.

Here's one exercise as an example.

Foam roll chest release

Lie lengthwise (from your tailbone to the back of your head) on a 3-foot long, 6-inch thick foam roller. Place your arms out to your sides (making a T shape with your body), with your palms facing upwards. Allow your arms to rest on the floor. Relax, breathe and maintain this position for 2-3 minutes. Perform this release two times a day.

Gary Kitchell is a sports specific physical therapist, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and a USPTA teaching professional. He has worked with 15 former number No. 1 players including John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl. Learn more at kitchtennisrx.com.