Games like football, soccer and rugby come to mind when thinking about sports-related concussions.

But a smashing tennis shot could cause a traumatic brain injury if the ball whacks a player’s head, a new study argues.

Concussions can happen if a tennis ball traveling faster than 89 miles per hour hits someone on the head, researchers report.

The average serve speed in professional tennis often exceeds 100 mph for both men and women, according to the website TennisUniverse.

Amateur players can’t hit the ball nearly as hard as that, but tennis ball injuries are possible, if rare, even among amateurs, the researchers said.

“Understanding and protecting against head injuries induced by tennis ball impacts is very important, given that tennis is a worldwide sport with tens of millions of participants every year,” said researcher Xin-Lin Gao, a mechanical engineering professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Head injuries from a tennis ball is also more likely if the ball strikes the side of the head or if it strikes at a direct 90-degree angle, Gao and colleagues reported recently in the Journal of Applied Mechanics.

The researchers came to their conclusions using a computer model similar to that which predicts head injuries that might occur in a car accident.

The computer model assessed what might happen to a man’s head if hit by a tennis ball at different speeds, locations and angles.

They specifically focused on whether a tennis ball could cause a traumatic brain injury — a blow to the head powerful enough to disrupt the normal function of the brain.

The research team then compared those results with previous research on traumatic brain injury, to make sure the observations were accurate.

Concussions are considered mild traumatic brain injuries because they aren’t life-threatening, but they can cause problems like headaches, dizziness and difficulty focusing that last weeks or months.

Goa said more research is needed to estimate the risk of tennis to women and children, but said the findings would likely be similar for both groups.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about concussion.

SOURCE: Southern Methodist University, news release, Dec. 6, 2023