How to Prevent Common Pickleball Injuries

Pickleball has become extremely popular, but that may be increasing pickleball-related injuries.

“It’s quickly becoming the sport of choice for adults over 50,” said Dr. Brian Cole, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He also plays handball.

“The high injury rate may be due to the fact that most of the players are over 50 years old,” Cole said in a hospital press release. “And many of them were largely sedentary before picking up their pickleball racket.”

Pickleball is like a cross between table tennis and tennis and attracts many beginners. During training, Cole frequently suffered muscle strains and sprains, mainly in his legs and ankles. Rotator cuff injuries are also very common. Sometimes he sees more serious injuries, including broken bones and concussions.

Here, Cole offers some suggestions for avoiding injury.

A good first step to avoiding injury is to first get an evaluation of your health from your primary care physician and possibly a physical therapist. You may not be as ready to start playing as you think if you haven’t been active for a while.

“Patients over the age of 60 account for nearly 80% of handball injuries, and the majority are men,” Cole said.

Importantly, many elderly people have underlying medical conditions that they are unaware of.

“Millions of people walk around with rotator cuff tears without pain because they have adapted well,” says Cole. “But then they go out, adopt this new sport and do some fun moves that push them over the edge and they become symptomatic. And that’s when things spiraled.”

When starting, remember to do warm-up exercises.

“For our older patients, a dynamic warm-up is quite important,” Cole says. “Preparing some type of exercise in advance will make a big difference in preventing injuries.”

He recommends starting with a 10-minute warm-up, followed by some jogging or jumping. You will increase your heart rate and blood flow to your muscles.

Then, do some arm rotations and shoulder rotations. Keep your arms straight out from your sides and rotate them in small circles, then gradually make larger circles before rotating in the opposite direction. Place your arms in front of you and rotate your shoulders forward and backward.

Finish with some leg swings. Stand next to a wall for support, then swing one leg back and forth and then side to side. Repeat those steps with your other leg.

To build coordination, Cole recommends doing some exercises that only take about 15 minutes. The first is the disturbance from one side to the other. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then quickly move to the side.

For the diagonal step exercise, place your feet shoulder-width apart. Cross one leg diagonally in front of the other. Then quickly move your back foot out from behind your front foot to return to the starting position. Continue moving side to side, crossing and uncrossing your legs in this way.

Choose the right equipment, including paddles that are appropriate for your strength level.

“Lightweight paddles put less strain and fatigue on your arms because they weigh 7.5 ounces or less,” Cole says.

You may need different shoes for outdoor and indoor play.

“Shoes for outdoor matches must be durable enough for the field surface. They often have a modified herringbone pattern to optimize the combination of giving force and grip. Indoor shoes have softer, thinner, lighter outsoles so they are best suited for hardwood surfaces,” Cole says.

Pack extra socks to help prevent blisters and foot injuries.

Protect yourself from the sun with sunglasses, perhaps with a strap or string that helps keep them in place, and sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher.

Taking a lesson can help you learn how to play or improve your technique.

When you get on the field, you will improve your social life, mental health and promote healthy aging.

“It actually provides a pretty good overall workout for the body,” Cole says. “It can help with balance, agility, reflexes and hand-eye coordination, while not putting undue stress on our bodies.”

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