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Have you heard of pickleball? It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. and is a huge hit among players 50 and older. With its combination of socialization, activity, and friendly competition, this fun racquet sport has plenty to offer players of all ages. However, with the increase in popularity comes an increase in injuries. As with all sports, we want to enjoy pickleball safely. We can stay safe by taking simple precautions, boosting our base-level fitness, and choosing proper footwear.
What Is Pickleball?
Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. Players can compete indoors or outdoors on a 20x 40-foot badminton-size court (much smaller than a tennis court). The only equipment needed is a 16 x 8-inch paddle and a plastic ball with holes, similar to a wiffle ball. Pickleball’s popularity is rising because it fosters social connections and friendly competition. It’s also relatively easy to learn and enjoyable for all ages and skill levels. It’s fun for beginners, and you can make it more competitive as you build skills. Pickleball is particularly popular with seniors but is not just for older adults, as all ages are joining the craze.
What Are Common Pickleball Injuries?
As pickleball rises in popularity, we see more injuries related to this new sport. However, in most cases, the social and health benefits generally outweigh the risk of injury. Pickleball involves less running than tennis and many other sports. It’s relatively low-impact but requires plenty of pivots and quick movements as players go for the ball on the small court. Most pickleball players are over 50, and nearly 20 percent are over 65. So preventing falls and overuse injuries is vital. Some common injuries include:
- Ankle strains and sprains: the pivots and lateral motions can take a toll on the ankles. Proper footwear is the best tool for preventing an ankle injury and be sure to warm up with a short walk before getting on the court. Rest and a supervised physical therapy program can get you back on the court.
- Hip injuries: moving your hips is an essential element of this strategic sport. Players twist and stretch to get the ball. Hip injuries related to pickleball often involve muscle strain. We can prevent hip injuries by building core strength and warming up our hip flexors by walking and stretching before playing.
- Achilles strains or tears: Pickleball’s quick motions can put the Achilles tendon of the heel at risk if you’re not careful. We can usually treat a strain with physical therapy, while a tear may require surgery.
- As in tennis, wrist injuries can occur from overuse or using your arm to break a fall. If you take a fall while on the court, you may need imaging to rule out a break.
- Rotator cuff injuries are less common than in tennis and some other sports. However, they sometimes occur in pickleball players. Usually, if a tear is not involved, rest and PT are the best treatments.
- We can prevent lower back injuries by building core strength and sticking to a regular stretching and warm-up routine. Physical therapy is usually the best approach for minor back pain. If symptoms persist, talk with your orthopaedist about imaging. You may have a damaged disc or vertebrae.
What Kind of Shoes Do I Need for Pickleball?
Just like with tennis, the right shoes are essential. Normal walking or running shoes won’t do the job. Pickleball is heavy on footwork and quick movements, so you need shoes that protect your ankles. Wearing the right shoes is even more important than having a good paddle. Athletic shoes designed for tennis provide the necessary ankle support. Your court shoes should also be durable and comfortable, so they may be pricier than other athletic footwear. But it’s well worth the investment to protect your joints.
How Can I Prevent Pickleball Injuries?
As with most sports, conditioning and warm-up routines are essential to safe pickleball play.
- Always warm up by walking and stretching before you play.
- Be aware of your body and your limitations. Don’t push yourself too hard on the court.
- Don’t play when you’re overtired.
- If you’ve been sedentary before starting pickleball, build cardiovascular fitness first. Walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike can help you get in shape.
- A brace can offer extra stability if you have a previous ankle injury.
- Many players consult with a physical therapist before starting. Your therapist can recommend exercises to help you build strength in critical areas and prevent injury.
What Should I Do If I Have a Pickleball Injury?
Why is pickleball so popular? In short: because it’s fun. But we want to ensure we’re taking precautions so we can continue enjoying a favorite activity. See your orthopaedist if you get hurt on the court or experience an overuse injury. At Countryside Orthopaedics, we can resolve many problems with a physical therapy program tailored to your needs, with surgery reserved as a last resort. Pickleball is an excellent way to have fun and stay fit, particularly for older adults. And if you get sidelined by an injury, our top-notch orthopedic and physical therapy teams will bring you back to the joy of the game.