Overuse injuries are unfortunately common in squash, due to the highly demanding physical nature of the game.
These injuries often manifest themselves within the arm around the shoulder and elbow region, but more commonly they tend to occur in the hips, knees, ankles, and feet – things like Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and painful blisters being familiar to many players.
Whilst incorporating appropriate strengthening exercises and prehab/rehab work into a training programme is a key element into limiting the effects of some of these issues, a lot of niggling aches and pains can be avoided in the first place by simply making sure you select the right equipment.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that is often seen at the recreational level of the game, is the wearing of standard ‘cross training' shoes while playing as opposed to dedicated court shoes.
From both an injury prevention and also performance standpoint, the selection of an appropriate pair of trainers is probably the most important purchase a squash player will make. A lot of players spend a huge amount of time and money on their racket purchase, with far less attention paid to their choice of footwear.
Mike O'Neill, from The Society of Chiropodists & Podiatrists estimates that around 65% of the UK's recreational sportsmen and women wear the wrong shoes for their chosen sport: “Trainers are the most important piece of fitness equipment you'll ever buy” he says. “Changing what you wear on your feet can prevent injuries.”
There is a big market for devoted squash shoes now, with companies like Salming offering specifically designed footwear, and companies like Adidas and Asics producing more general ‘court' shoes that are often also marketed toward sports such as volleyball and handball, but which share most of the same characteristics crucial to squash – appropriate ankle support, midfoot and heel cushioning, prevention of lateral roll etc.
If you're thinking of going in store it's worth trying as many different brands of shoe out as you can, when considering your purchase. Wear the socks you would usually play in when trying on shoes as well, to get a proper feel.
Move around in the trainers you try also, bounce on your toes, maybe even simulate a few lunges – the sales assistants may not be too keen on you actually going through a full blown ghosting routine around the shop floor, but do try and actually at least lightly jog around in them!
Ask questions of your playing partners to find out their experiences with specific shoes, and look to actually try different pairs on before you buy – different shoes will have different widths, heel cups, lace positions etc.
Be aware also that your feet will expand slightly when you're active and your body temperature rises, so it's often best to try shoes on toward the end of the day to get a truer idea of fit.
Finally, be sure to change your shoes at a set frequency.
While it's always tempting to hang on to a trusty pair of trainers that feel like slippers, the support and cushioning in most shoes will gradually erode over time, even though they may still feel fine on your feet. Runners often cite the ‘500 mile rule' for when to change trainers, but it's difficult to be quite this specific for squash players.
As a general rule of thumb however, assuming you're playing a regular 2 to 3 times per week, you should look to change your squash trainers at least every 6 months.
For further reading, check out the NHS guide to choosing sports shoes and trainers, and the WebMD top 10 tips.
Check out Salming's new range of Kobra squash shoes here
Gary Nisbet - B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
Squashskills Fitness & Conditioning Director