Pickleball has attained popularity in recent times and is a fast-growing sport in America. According to (the Sports and Fitness Industry Association or SFIA’s 2023 report, it has been mentioned that participation in the sport nearly doubled in 2022, increasing by 85.7 percent year over year.(1) This is a fun sport and could be a great form of low-impact exercise for everyone. However, a study published in 2020 in The Journal of Emergency Medicine states that pickleball injury rates of players have also grown higher.(2) The study pointed out that in 2013, there were 688 estimated pickleball injuries, while it jumped to 6, 072 in 2017.
Injuries are more likely to occur in pickleball players who are more than forty years old, and they are even more likely when the age of the players exceeds fifty years. This was published in a review in Apunts Sports Medicine in January 2023.(3)
Let us read on to learn about the 7 most common pickleball injuries and learn about how to avoid them.
7 Most Common Pickleball Injuries
Although pickleball is a low-impact sport, it requires balance and quick movement. Thus, pickleball players are at risk for some common pickleball injuries, which include:
Shoulder strain is one of the most common pickleball injuries. Overextending the shoulder and rotator cuff can result in pain and damage to the muscle. Over time, shoulder injuries can lead to pain, inflammation, and reduced range of motion.
Pickleball elbow is another common injury experienced by pickleball players. This injury can be caused by tendonitis or inflammation of tendons. Repetitive motion during pickleball can result in the pickleball elbow.
Wrist and Hip Fractures
When someone playing pickleball has trouble balancing or moving their feet then falling and experiencing traumatic injuries like hip fractures are common. Apart from the hip, the wrist is also vulnerable to fractures while playing pickleball. Players can slip or trip and fall on the court with their wrists breaking due to the fall. Even a study about upper body injuries in pickleball and paddleball that was published in Cureus in 2023, backs it up.
If you suspect a fracture, make sure to see a doctor and get started with the treatment as soon as possible.
Another common pickleball injury is the MCL strain. The ligament running down the inside of our knee is known as MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament). This ligament holds the knee joint steady and is essential for keeping us safe during side-to-side movements.
Since pickleball involves lots of quick, agile movements that can put stress on the MCL, an MCL strain is a common injury experienced by pickleball players. An MCL injury requires RICE, i.e. rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the knee. Apart from this, a physical therapist can help people with MCL strain to get a tailored treatment plan.
Low Back Pain
Lower back pain is one of the most common pickleball injuries. A lack of core strength could be one of the major factors that contribute to stress on the lower back. Additionally, as pickleball players run forward and decelerate quickly, their quads have to engage to “put on their brakes”, and this movement can lead to sudden flexion in the lower back, which causes strain on the area and results in low back pain.
Bruises and Scrapes
Bruises and scrapes are some other common injuries experienced by pickleball players. A bruise or scrape might occur when the player falls or trips over a ball, or even runs into a wall or fence.
The pain associated with Achilles tendinitis usually begins mildly, but ongoing muscle tension can lead to more severe aches and even cause tendon tears. This happens because of the repetitive stress while playing pickleball.
How to Avoid Pickleball Injuries?
Using Proper Shoes
Using proper or supportive shoes will help you avoid or lower the risk of pickleball injuries, such as leg, ankle, and foot injuries sprains and strains, and so on. Wearing correctly fitting shoes offers the required support and helps prevent injuries.
Regular exercise is highly essential if you want to avoid pickleball injury. Incorporating strengthening exercises, and leg exercises like lunges, squats, and calf raises are beneficial in building strength. Strength training prepares the body to handle the repetitive nature of running, bending forward, and quickly changing directions that are involved while playing pickleball.
The current recommendations from Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans that adults should do, include 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle-strengthening activities of moderate-intensity on two or more days per week.(5)
Proper Stretching and Warm Up
Stretching and a proper warmup before a pickleball match are essential to reduce or avoid the risk of injury. This will also help you improve your performance. In addition to this, warming up before the match allows the body to have a full range of motion.
Pickleball University recommends a few different pickleball warm-up drills, such as one or two minutes of stretching your back, calves, and shoulders. Apart from this, a five-minute brisk walk and a few leg stretches can also help reduce muscle tension.
Knowing When to Stop
Pain could be a signal from the brain that your body is beginning to tell you to stop. It might not always be indicative of an injury, but a sign to slow down or take a break. You should seek medical attention if discomfort is limiting the way you move. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you get the treatment that you require to get back to playing the sport again.
What to Do if You Experience a Pickleball Injury?
If you experience a pickleball injury, you should ensure to get proper treatment for the injury. If there is an emergency due to an injury while playing the sport, you should seek immediate medical help. However, for non-emergency pickleball injuries, you will have to follow the steps mentioned below.
Gauge the Severity of Your Injury
Guage the severity of your injury, as it can help help you understand if you should seek medical attention or rest can help you feel better. Although minor strains or bruises can heal on their own with rest, it is always recommended to seek your doctor’s opinion before self-diagnosing the condition. Visiting a doctor will help you determine the proper treatment to promote quick recovery.
Schedule an Orthopedic Appointment
If an injury does not require emergency medical help, you should still schedule an appointment with your doctor or an orthopedic specialist who can determine the extent of your pickleball injury and create an effective treatment plan for you.
Follow the Prescribed Treatment
For a complete healing from your pickleball injury, you should follow your doctor’s prescribed treatment. Apart from this, allow yourself time to rest and recover from the injury. In certain cases, your physician might recommend physical therapy for you.
Pickleball injuries are now quite common because the sport has been growing at a pace and so has the injury associated with it. Some common pickleball injuries are shoulder strains, Achilles tendinitis, MCL tear, pickleball elbow, fractures, low back pain, and bruises. Sometimes these injuries might not require medical attention and might recover with rest. However, severe cases of such injuries require immediate medical attention along with proper rest and care. One can protect themselves from these injuries while playing pickleball by following safety rules, such as wearing protective and rightly fitting shoes, warming up before the match, and exercising regularly.