How tennis helps me to manage my Parkinson's

Sharon had always enjoyed playing tennis, but she started to notice something was wrong when she tried to serve or hit a ball during a match. She was later diganosed with Parkinson's aged 55, but has not let that stop her continuing to enjoy getting out on court. 

Here Sharon shares her story. 

It was about 5 years ago when I was playing tennis that I first noticed a problem. All of a sudden I went to serve and I couldn’t throw the ball up straight or throw my racquet at the ball, I also had a sore shoulder throughout the year as well. Something just wasn’t right.

In December of that year, I started feeling a tremor and after I spoke to a family friend for advice, they recommended that I speak to my GP. 

It would take another 6 weeks, but my GP managed to get me an appointment with a neurologist to find out what was wrong. He suspected Parkinson’s straight away.    

I had an MRI scan as well to rule out any other possible conditions. 6 months later, I went back to see my specialist and he confirmed the Parkinson's diagnosis.   

I’d already had a few months to get used to the idea that I might have Parkinson’s. So when I got the diagnosis I was quite determined to live my life as normal as the symptoms were quite mild.  And that included playing tennis. 

Sharon is stood on a tennis court in front of the net. She is wearing black sports gear and holding a tennis racquet.

Keeping motivated

As a child I played badminton and that was where my interest in sport really began. At the age of 20 I thought I would like to start playing tennis so that’s where I started. 

I was able to play at local club level and then I started my tennis coaching to help other people get involved in the sport.   

I’ve lived all over the world and playing tennis has allowed me to meet so many people. It’s a great way to meet new people and socialise with members of the local community. 

When I was diagnosed, my neurologist said keep doing what I’m doing, so that was my motivation to keep playing tennis. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to start being active with the condition.  

Obviously I don’t play tennis to the same ability that I did before. I think you tend to notice the slowness of movement more. 

But I think that playing tennis and being active has helped me to keep my symptoms in check. I still enjoy the tennis sessions and they help to keep me motivated. 

When I play tennis I forget I have Parkinson’s. For that short time, I can just enjoy playing tennis and it really lifts my mood. 

Tennis definitely helps me to manage my Parkinson’s as you need good hand-eye coordination. It also helps to improve your balance as you sometimes have to make rapid changes of movement.    

It definitely keeps you on your toes! You need to have good footwork and reaction times to be able to hit the ball in time. It’s also good for your brain as you have to keep score and keep your focus on the game. 

I’m the only person in our club who has Parkinson’s. That doesn’t bother me too much, but it’s hard to know that I can’t play at the level I once used to. Everyone is really accommodating, but you’re always aware that your abilities are slowing down. 

It’s great to have that network of people supporting you and to help you keep going. It makes you more determined to keep playing. 

When I play tennis I forget I have Parkinson’s. For that short time, I can just enjoy playing tennis and it really lifts my mood. 

There's always something you can try

It’s not just about playing tennis though, there are so many other physical activities that people with Parkinson’s can try. 

Walking tennis is another great way to learn tennis as the ball doesn’t move as fast, or need to be hit as hard.  

I’ve just taken up pickleball as well, which is a combination of badminton, table tennis and normal tennis which is great fun! I really like that, I think it’s something I think I will be able to do when I can no longer play tennis.   

I also exercise with Reach Your Peak doing Parkinson’s-specific exercises. They have a great saying that 'exercise is medicine'. 

My husband has bought me an electric bike as well, so I’ll have to try and give that a go - I think I’ve got enough things to keep me going though!  

Find a Parkinson's-friendly tennis session near you

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) can offer Parkinson's-friendly tennis sessions in the UK.