As racquet technology continues to advance, the general trend continues to move towards stiffer and thinner variations of graphite as well as lighter weights. While frames now supply more power, the increased stiffness, along with the unfounded popularity of polyester-based strings, has not helped to lessen the onset of tennis elbow in many players. Reports indicate that as many as half of all tennis players get some form of tennis elbow during their life.
Plenty of players know that certain steps must be taken once they believe that they have this unfortunately common problem. The first step should always be to rest, as the injury, by nature, is caused primarily by repetitive twisting and turning actions. If the problem is minor and rest clears up the pain, what happens if it flares up again the next time you go out to play? My personal advice would be to first check on your technique, as a single technical flaw can contribute to tennis elbow. What happens though when you are in the middle of your league or tournament season and you simply cannot undergo major changes like rebuilding your backhand or changing racquets?
Well, as a response to this sort of situation, as well as anyone hoping for a quick-fix cure to tennis elbow, Wilson has designed the Shock Shield Kit. The manufacturer suggests that players take advantage of all pieces of the kit, but for obvious reasons, the pieces are sold separately. The package contains three pieces: strings, a grip, and a vibration dampener. While none of these items are revolutionary (other manufacturers have produced these kinds of products before), the idea of a total package specifically sold for players with tennis elbow is new. One of the best points of the Shock Shield package is that all of the changes are easy to make.
Based on what I have seen as an MRT stringer over the years, the spike in popularity of polyester-based strings among club players really began about 10 years ago, with Luxilon ALU Power making waves on the ATP tour leading the movement. Strings have come a long way with claims of being softer with improved playability and better tension maintenance. While this is somewhat true, the fact is that a polyester-based string today is of comparable stiffness to the polyester strings in the past. The more widespread use has had at least some impact on the increasing cases of tennis elbow.
For this reason, one of the first suggestions made is to not only restring (which can have many benefits by itself), but to install a much softer feeling string. In the case of this Wilson package, that string is Shock Shield. It bears a close resemblance to Hollow Core, but a distinct blue color thanks to the IsoZorb material that has been injected into the central hollow fiber. You may remember this IsoZorb material was first mentioned years ago when the original Triad series was released. It is the same material that acts as the shock buffer between the handle and head sections of the three piece construction. Shock Shield is currently available in 16 and 17 gauges, and the central core is surrounded by layers of smaller nylon fibers that are bound using the standard polyurethane resin. The result is a comfortable string that boasts a softer feel and lessens vibration by dampening higher amplitude waves.
Another quick change is to replace the current grip with the Shock Shield Hybrid Grip, which, like the other hybrid grips, is a multi-layered product. It appears to be a much improved version of one of their former comfort grips, the TL Gel grip that was created around the time that the original Triad racquets were released. This one has a much larger IsoZorb gel layer and offers much better dampening. It is a little bit larger than many stock grips, and so might make the handle feel just a touch thicker. The standard polyurethane top layer offers good tackiness, but this grip is primarily designed with comfort in mind.
The last piece of the package is the vibration dampener, which bears a striking resemblance to the ever-popular Gamma Shockbuster. The Shock Shield dampener is intended to snake across a number of the middle mains, decreasing the amount of string deflection. The string vibration will be lessened, significantly altering the sound at impact, but also limiting the amplitude of potential hazardous vibrations.
Wilson suggests that for best results, the three pieces should be used in conjunction with one another, and some of our testers have agreed. While you can definitely tell the string plays softly with plenty of comfort, you feel the full benefit with the entire kit. If the Wilson grip does not suit you or you would like even more cushion, check out the Gamma Hi-Tech Gel Contour grip.
Please remember that none of these products, or any other, are designed to heal or treat tennis elbow in any way. They are designed as temporary aids that will allow someone to continue playing with less pain for a short time. Also remember to listen to your body and with an inflammation injury that is caused by repetitive action, there is no way that continuing to play will allow the muscles and tendons to heal.