If you’re one of the millions of Americans who play pickleball, you know how fun and challenging the sport can be. However, as the sport has gained popularity, so too have the injury rates of players. According to a study published in The Journal of Emergency Medicine, pickleball-related injuries treated in emergency departments have increased significantly from 2001 to 2017. Injuries are far more likely to occur in pickleball players who are over 40, and they are even more likely among adults ages 50 and older.
Despite the risks, pickleball remains the fastest-growing sport in America, with participation nearly doubling in 2022 alone. But don’t let the injury rates deter you from playing. With the right conditioning and knowledge of common injuries, you can keep playing the sport you love. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most common pickleball injuries and how to prevent them, so you can stay healthy and active on the court.
1. Sprains and Strains
One-third of pickleball injuries are sprains and strains, which occur when a ligament or muscle/tendon is stretched or torn. Hamstring and calf strains and ankle sprains are the most common injuries, with knee injuries also reported. The need to run, stop, plant your feet, and abruptly change direction can make strains and sprains more likely if your body isn’t ready for that type of movement. To avoid these injuries, it’s important to properly warm up before playing and to gradually increase your intensity level. Additionally, wearing proper footwear with good support can help prevent ankle sprains.
2. Low Back Pain
If you experience low back pain while playing pickleball, it could be due to a lack of core strength. Your quads engage when you run forward and decelerate quickly, causing sudden flexion in the back, which can cause strain if your back isn’t ready for it. To prevent low back pain, ensure that your posterior chain is ready for sudden stops. Strengthening your core can also help reduce the risk of low back pain.
Fractures are a type of traumatic injury that can occur while playing pickleball. In fact, according to a 2021 study, fractures occurred in 28 percent of older adults playing pickleball, with women being affected 3.5 times more often than men. The wrist is the area most vulnerable to fractures. This is because falling on the court with your wrist can lead to a fracture. A study published in Cureus in 2023 found that the majority of upper body injuries were wrist fractures from a fall or dive during pickleball and paddleball games. Some of these injuries were severe enough to require surgery.
4. Upper Body Injuries
While upper body injuries are less common than lower body ones, there is still a risk of injury in pickleball. The mechanics of pickleball are similar to other racquet sports, which can predispose your upper body to injuries that are similar to those seen in tennis. The most common upper body injuries in pickleball are located in the elbow, followed by the shoulder.
Most of the force needed to hit the ball is generated by your wrist and elbow, which can lead to pain in those areas. Swinging the paddle overhead, known as an overhead smash, can also contribute to rotator cuff tendon tears. Overtraining can also lead to soreness in your shoulder, wrist, or elbow due to putting too much stress on the joints during repeated play without sufficient rest and recovery.
To prevent upper body injuries in pickleball, it’s important to warm up properly before playing and to use the correct technique when hitting the ball. It’s also important to take breaks and rest when you feel pain or soreness in your upper body. If you do experience an injury, seek medical attention and avoid playing until you have fully recovered.
5. Bruises and Scrapes
In your pursuit to give your best effort on the court, you might fall, trip over a ball, or even run into a fence or wall. These incidents can result in a bruise or scrape, which is a common injury in pickleball. According to a 2021 study, about 1 in 10 pickleball players experience these injuries. Although they don’t often sideline you, they can be painful reminders of the game’s physical nature.
How to Prevent Pickleball Injuries
Pickleball is a fun and exciting sport that can be enjoyed by players of all ages and skill levels. However, like any physical activity, it can also lead to injuries if proper precautions are not taken. Here are some tips to help you prevent pickleball injuries and stay safe on the court:
- Recover well. Give your body enough time to rest and recover between pickleball sessions or games. It’s important to take a day off to allow your muscles and joints to heal properly. Additionally, make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep to aid in recovery.
- Train outside of pickleball. While pickleball is a great workout, it’s important to incorporate other forms of training as well. Resistance training can help build strength in your upper and lower body, as well as your core and back stability, which will prepare your body for the repetitive movements involved in pickleball. Cardio exercise can also improve your endurance on the court. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity on two or more days a week. Older adults should also include balance-training activities in their routine.
- Know when to stop. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. If you experience discomfort that limits your movement or affects your sleep, it’s important to see a doctor to get it checked out. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can get back to playing pickleball.
- Warm up properly. A good warm-up can help prevent injuries and improve your performance on the court. Pickleball University recommends several warm-up drills, including stretching your calves, back, and shoulders for at least one or two minutes, dinking with a partner to practice soft shots, and playing a pretend match on half the court.
By following these tips, you can reduce your risk of developing pickleball injuries and enjoy the game for years to come. Remember to always listen to your body and seek medical attention if you experience any pain or discomfort.