Pickleball has exploded onto the scene, becoming America’s fastest growing sport. Millions of new players are trying pickleball every year.
The unfortunate side effect of higher participation, however, is a rise of pickleball-related injuries. Some reports indicate that pickleball injuries may cost Americans millions of dollars in treatment and rehabilitation.
Sports and injuries have always gone hand-in-hand, and pickleball is no different. However, one of the best ways to protect yourself is being aware of possible pickleball injuries, as well as effective techniques to avoid them.
In this post, we’ll cover some of the most common pickleball injuries. We’ll also share some tried-and-true methods to prepare your body for the physical exertion of pickleball while avoiding the missteps that lead to harm.
Common pickleball injuries
Below are some of the most common pickleball injuries seen among players:
- Sprained Ankles: Twisting or rolling an ankle is a common injury in many sports, including pickleball. This can happen when players change direction quickly or step on the ball.
- Strains and Sprains: Muscular strains and ligament sprains can occur, often in the shoulders, knees, or wrists. These injuries can happen due to overuse or improper technique.
- Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis): Repetitive wrist and forearm movements in pickleball can lead to tennis elbow, which causes pain and inflammation on the outer part of the elbow.
- Rotator Cuff Injuries: Overhead shots, can put strain on the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder, leading to injuries.
- Tendonitis: Inflammation of tendons, such as in the wrist or elbow, can occur due to repetitive movements like swinging the paddle.
- Knee Injuries: Twisting, turning, and quick movements can put stress on the knees, potentially leading to injuries like patellar tendonitis or meniscus tears.
- Back Pain: Players who bend and twist frequently during play may experience lower back pain or strain.
- Hamstring and Calf Injuries: Sudden sprints or changes in direction can lead to strains in the hamstrings or calf muscles.
- Blisters and Abrasions: Friction between the paddle handle and the hand can cause blisters, while diving for shots can result in abrasions or “pickleball raspberries” on the knees and elbows.
- Eye Injuries: Although rare, pickleballs are made of hard plastic and can be hit at high speeds. Eye protection is recommended to prevent eye injuries.
Why do pickleball injuries occur?
Now that we know some of the most common injuries in pickleball, let’s explore some reasons why these injuries occur at all:
- Overuse: Repetitive motions, such as swinging the paddle or performing overhead shots, can strain muscles and tendons over time. Overuse injuries, like tendonitis, can develop when players don’t allow sufficient rest and recovery between sessions.
- Improper Technique: Using incorrect form and technique can increase the risk of injuries. For example, using the wrong grip on the paddle or poor body positioning can lead to strains, sprains, or even accidents on the court.
- Inadequate Warm-Up: Failing to warm up properly before playing can leave muscles and joints unprepared for the physical demands of the game, increasing the risk of strains and sprains.
- Insufficient Conditioning: Lack of physical fitness, including strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance, can make players more susceptible to injuries. Proper conditioning is essential for injury prevention.
- Inadequate Rest and Recovery: Not allowing enough time for the body to recover between pickleball sessions can lead to fatigue and an increased risk of injury.
- Age and Fitness Level: Older players or those with pre-existing health conditions may be more prone to injuries due to decreased muscle mass, bone density, and overall physical fitness.
- Playing Surface: The type of court surface can affect injury risk. Harder surfaces like concrete or asphalt can lead to more impact-related injuries compared to softer surfaces like wood or cushioned gym floors.
- Footwear: Wearing inappropriate or worn-out footwear with insufficient support and traction can contribute to slips, falls, and ankle injuries.
- Collision and Contact: Collisions with other players or objects, such as the net or the ball itself, can lead to injuries. Players may also accidentally collide with their partners during doubles play.
- Fatigue: As players become fatigued during a match, their form and technique may deteriorate, increasing the risk of injury.
- Environmental Factors: Weather conditions like heat, humidity, or slippery court surfaces can impact a player’s physical performance and increase the likelihood of injuries.
- Equipment Issues: Issues with the pickleball paddle, such as a loose grip or a paddle that is too heavy or too light for the player’s preference, can affect performance and potentially lead to injuries.
- Lack of Protective Gear: Some players may not use appropriate protective gear, such as knee braces or eyewear, increasing the risk of injuries to vulnerable areas.
- Inadequate Supervision: In recreational or casual settings, players may not receive proper guidance or coaching on safe play and injury prevention.
How to avoid common pickleball injuries
Below are some effective measures to take in preventing and avoiding pickleball injuries:
- Proper Warm-Up: Always start your session with a thorough warm-up to prepare your muscles and joints. Light cardio, dynamic stretches, and joint mobility exercises can help increase blood flow and flexibility.
- Learn Proper Technique: Take lessons or seek guidance from experienced players or coaches to learn the correct techniques for serving, volleying, and moving on the court. Proper form can reduce the risk of overuse injuries and improve your performance.
- Wear Appropriate Footwear: Invest in good-quality athletic shoes with excellent arch support and non-marking soles. Shoes designed for court sports like tennis or indoor volleyball are typically suitable for pickleball.
- Use the Right Paddle Grip: Learn and use the proper grip technique on your paddle to minimize strain on your wrist and forearm. This can help prevent conditions like tennis elbow.
- Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can lead to muscle cramps and decreased performance. Drink water before, during, and after playing to stay properly hydrated.
- Pace Yourself: Avoid overexertion and listen to your body. If you start to feel fatigued, take breaks as needed and allow time for recovery.
- Cross-Train: Engage in off-court conditioning exercises to improve your overall fitness. Strengthening and flexibility exercises can help prevent injuries by enhancing your body’s ability to withstand stress.
- Stretch After Playing: After your pickleball session, engage in static stretching to maintain or improve flexibility. Focus on areas like the shoulders, wrists, hamstrings, and calves.
- Use Protective Gear: Consider wearing protective gear such as padded knee sleeves or braces if you have a history of knee injuries or are prone to knee problems.
- Stay Alert: Be aware of your surroundings on the court, including other players and the court boundaries. This can help you avoid collisions and accidents.
- Choose the Right Ball: Pick the appropriate ball for your skill level. Softer, slower balls are often recommended for beginners to reduce the risk of mishits and injuries.
- Maintain Proper Nutrition: Eat a balanced diet to support overall health and recovery. Proper nutrition can help with muscle repair and overall fitness.
- Rest and Recovery: Ensure you get enough rest between pickleball sessions to allow your body to recover. Adequate sleep and rest are essential for injury prevention and overall well-being.
- Listen to Your Body: If you experience persistent pain or discomfort, do not ignore it. Seek medical attention and follow appropriate rehabilitation recommendations.
- Play with Caution: While pickleball is generally considered a low-impact sport, accidents can happen. Play with caution and maintain good sportsmanship to minimize the risk of injury to yourself and others.
Conclusion: Reduce your risk of pickleball injury
While you can’t eliminate 100% of injury risk while playing pickleball, there are effective ways to lower your chances of getting hurt on the court. Understanding common injuries that occur during pickleball is an effective way to safeguard yourself. From there, you can take preventative measures to avoid as many injuries as possible. So while you’re working on your serve, dinks, and drives, make sure you practice good technique and pace yourself. Your body will thank you later.