In this article, we will first identify 5 of the most common pickleball injuries. We will then go on to suggest how you can reduce the risk of experiencing them while continuing to enjoy this rapidly growing pastime.
Pickleball has seen rapid growth in North America during the past decade or so. According to a 2022 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball grew nearly 40% in popularity between 2019 and 2021 and is now the fastest growing sport in the US.
5 Common Pickleball Injuries
As stated, pickleball is a fast-growing sport in North America. It combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong and has gained popularity across all age groups due to its social nature and accessibility.
Although pickleball is generally considered low-impact and less injury-prone compared to other sports, players should be aware of potential risks. Here are five of the most common pickleball injuries:
Sprains and Strains
As with any sport that sometimes requires rapid movements and changes in direction, pickleball can give rise to ligament sprains and muscle strains.
- Description: Sprains occur when ligaments, which connect bones to each other, are stretched or torn, while strains involve the stretching or tearing of muscles or tendons.
- Causes: Quick and repetitive movements, sudden stops or changes in direction, and overexertion can lead to sprains and strains during pickleball.
- Common Sites: Ankles, knees, wrists, and shoulders are commonly affected areas.
Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)
- Description: Tennis elbow is a condition characterized by inflammation of the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle, a bony prominence on the outer side of the elbow.
- Causes: Overuse of the forearm muscles involved in gripping and swinging the pickleball paddle can lead to this injury.
- Symptoms: Pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow, weakness in the affected arm, and difficulty gripping objects.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
- Description: The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. Rotator cuff injuries can range from mild inflammation to complete tears of the tendons.
- Causes: Repetitive overhead motions, such as serving or smashing the ball, can strain the rotator cuff.
- Symptoms: Pain, weakness, and limited range of motion in the shoulder.
Patellar Tendinitis (Jumper’s Knee)
- Description: Patellar tendinitis is an overuse injury that affects the tendon connecting the kneecap (patella) to the shinbone.
- Causes: Frequent jumping, sudden stops, and changes in direction during pickleball can put stress on the patellar tendon, leading to inflammation and pain.
- Symptoms: Pain and tenderness below the kneecap, especially when jumping or bending the knee.
- Description: Achilles tendinitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone.
- Causes: Excessive running, jumping, and quick movements on the court can strain the Achilles tendon.
- Symptoms: Pain and stiffness in the back of the ankle, particularly after physical activity.
Preventing Pickleball Injuries
By understanding the potential risks and implementing preventive measures, pickleball players can minimize the chances of getting injured and continue to enjoy the game safely. Below, we will delve into essential tips for preventing pickleball injuries.
Warm-Up and Stretch
Before stepping onto the pickleball court, take the time to warm up your muscles and stretch. A proper warm-up increases blood flow to the muscles, prepares the body for physical activity, and reduces the risk of strains and sprains. Focus on dynamic stretching, which involves moving the joints through their full range of motion, as it is more effective in preventing injury compared to static stretching. Pay particular attention to your shoulders, wrists, hips, and ankles, as these areas are commonly involved in pickleball movements.
Use Appropriate Footwear
Invest in well-fitting, supportive athletic shoes with good traction to prevent slips and falls on the court. Proper footwear not only enhances your performance but also reduces the impact on your joints and minimizes the risk of ankle and knee injuries. Look for shoes designed for court sports, which offer lateral support and cushioning for quick lateral movements.
Play on a Suitable Surface
The surface you play on can impact your risk of injury. Pickleball courts are commonly made of concrete, asphalt, or acrylic. While these surfaces are generally safe, playing on a cushioned or rubberized court can reduce the impact on your joints, especially during prolonged play. If possible, choose a court with shock-absorbing properties or wear shoes with additional cushioning.
Learn & Practice Proper Technique
Mastering correct techniques is key to preventing pickleball injuries. Work with an experienced coach or join a beginner’s class to learn the fundamental strokes, footwork, and strategies. Proper technique not only improves your performance but also reduces the strain on your muscles and tendons, lowering the risk of overuse injuries like tennis elbow and rotator cuff problems.
Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to your body and don’t ignore any signs of pain or discomfort. Overexertion and playing through pain can lead to more severe injuries. If you experience pain, stop playing, rest, and allow your body time to recover. Seek medical attention if the pain persists or worsens.
Strengthening and Conditioning
Incorporate strength training and conditioning exercises into your routine to build muscular strength and endurance. A balanced exercise program that targets your core, legs, and upper body can enhance your stability, agility, and overall performance on the court. Stronger muscles also provide better support for your joints, reducing the risk of injuries.
Dehydration can lead to decreased performance and increased susceptibility to injuries. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after playing pickleball, especially in hot and humid weather. Staying hydrated helps maintain your energy levels and promotes proper muscle function.
Play Within Your Limits
Know your physical limitations and avoid pushing yourself too hard, especially if you are new to the sport or returning after a break. Start with shorter playing sessions and gradually increase the duration and intensity of play as your fitness level improves. Avoid playing for extended periods without breaks.
Use Protective Gear
If you have a history of injuries or are prone to certain conditions, consider using protective gear. For example, players with a history of ankle injuries may benefit from wearing ankle braces for added support. Wearing knee pads can provide extra cushioning and protection for players with a history of knee issues.
Cool Down and Stretch
After finishing your pickleball session, take a few minutes to cool down and perform static stretches. This helps reduce muscle tightness and improves flexibility, which can prevent muscle strains and cramps.
Pickleball is a fantastic sport that promotes social interaction and physical activity. By following these preventive measures, players can reduce the risk of injuries and continue enjoying the game safely. Remember that preventing pickleball injuries is a shared responsibility between the individual player and the pickleball community. Encourage your fellow players to prioritize safety and create a supportive environment that fosters injury-free play. Stay active, stay safe, and have fun on the pickleball court!
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