I'm a beginner but at 39 I am really enjoying the game of tennis. I used to play racquetball and was accustomed to wearing protective goggles. With tennis, I see very few people wearing anything to protect their eyes on the court. What's your opinion of this? - Steven
When I read your question, it was sight for sore eyes because it encouraged me to dig in and find out some interesting statistics and information. According to Prevent Blindness America, hospital emergency rooms treat about 40,000 sports-related eye injuries every year. Any sport that uses balls, racquets or flying objects poses a risk for serious eye injury.
Ron Williams, director of adult tennis at the Charleston YMCA says, "In my experiences on the court teaching and playing, eye injuries rank as high as ankle sprains. I have seen many injuries ranging from corneal abrasions, retinal detachments, to one case of blindness. The risk is high, especially with beginner children and adults, because of the difficulty judging the position of a flying ball. I also see injuries occurring more often in the clinic and lesson situations due to the increased pace and frequency of balls being hit."
Looks may deceive when you consider that tennis, racquetball, squash and badminton are noncontact sports. But when you understand that objects in these sports can move 60 miles per hour or faster in a confined space, you realize the potential danger that exists.
Interestingly, Williams says injuries happen in unexpected ways: "I don't see many injuries happening from direct hits off the opponent's racket. Almost all injuries result from deflections off the player's own racket and, inexplicably, the greatest amount result from ricochets off the partner's racket in doubles play at the net. My personal experience with two eye injuries was being hit by errant balls from other courts. Also, people who wear prescription glasses and sunglasses are prone to different kinds of injuries because the force of the ball can shatter the glasses and result in penetration injuries."
Williams makes it clear that novice players run a higher risk, but also cites that experience does not make eye protection unnecessary. In a regular clinic setting with experienced players, he took a quick survey and found that five out of 10 people had at some time been hit in the eye or face with the ball.
Thankfully, a rapidly growing segment of the eye-care industry is protective eyewear for the sports enthusiast. Studies have shown that wearing safety glasses practically eliminates the risk of eye damage and performance is sometimes improved because the fear factor is reduced.
Even better, they now build in your prescription to these protective goggles/glasses for those who need corrective lenses. This is good news. It is not uncommon for those people who require only slight correction in their lenses to choose to go without glasses in tennis rather than taking the risk of a ball hitting their glasses. With the new prescriptive goggles, they can improve their vision while also reducing the chance of eye injury.