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Enjoy Pickleball Without Getting Hurt

May 17, 2023

It’s no surprise that pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. -- it was designed for anyone to be able to enjoy it. But just like with any other sport, you still need to take care to avoid injury.

Before grabbing a paddle and heading out to the pickleball court, check with your doctor to make sure you’re fit for athletics.

Beyond that, you don’t need any special conditioning to get ready for the sport, which is a cross between tennis, ping-pong and badminton. If you are looking for a low-impact sport that is easy on the joints– particularly when playing doubles – pickleball is a great option to get you off the couch and active.

Common Pickleball Injuries

Pickleball is not a hard sport to play, but there is a fair amount of side-to-side movement (especially if you are playing singles), along with cutting, twisting and swinging the paddle. Injuries can affect players of all ages. However, older adults and people who have not exercised regularly in the past, may be more vulnerable to injuries. There are three main types of injuries:

  • Strains and sprains: Strains are injuries to muscles, while sprains affect the ligaments that make our joints stable. Both can be very painful. Some of the more common ones are calf strains, hamstring strains and ankle sprains.
  • Overuse: The repetitive nature of the sport will have you doing many of the same movements over and over. This could result in rotator cuff tears as well as tennis or golfer’s elbow. In the lower body, tendonitis in the knee and the Achilles tendon can send a player to the sidelines when severe.  Fortunately, it is more common to see only mild symptoms.
  • Traumatic injuries: These tend to be rare. Slipping or falling on the court can lead to fractures of the ankle and wrist.

Avoiding Pickleball Injuries

Most people can learn how to play pickleball in under an hour, but walking on the pickleball court for the first time without planning could lead to injury. Start by making sure you have comfortable athletic shoes rather than worn sneakers that will increase your risk of slipping. Well-padded athletic socks can also help you avoid blisters and other issues with your feet. Especially over the summer, bring water with you to make sure you avoid dehydration.

Remember to listen to your body. If you start feeling an unusual pain, stop what you are doing and figure out what’s happening, possibly with a trip to your doctor. Trying to play through an injury could make it worse and delay your return to the court.

Your approach to the game should also include a regular warm-up/stretching routine to get your body ready. Consider these activities:

Walking/jogging: Get your blood flowing for 5 to 10 minutes before stretching.

Hamstring stretch: Stand with your feet side by side. Extend your right leg and put your heel on the ground with your toes pointing up. Bend your left knee and angle your torso forward at the waist. Hold for 30 seconds and the repeat with the other side. The stretch also helps your calves.

Overhead shoulder stretch: Stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Pull your shoulders back and push your chest out. Raise your right arm overhead and bend your elbow so that you can place your hand behind your neck. Use your left hand to grasp your right elbow and gently pull it behind your head. Hold it for 30 seconds and repeat with the other side.

Cross body shoulder stretch: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Take your right arm and put it across your chest. With your left hand, grab the outer forearm of your right arm and pull it into your body. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other side.

Heel raises: Stand in front of a table or counter for balance. Your feet should be hip width apart, with your toes pointing forward. Slowly raise your heels as high as you can go and then lower slowly. Repeat eight to 10 times.

Side-lying leg lift: Lie on your left side and then lift your right leg. Keep your knee straight and your hips stacked to make sure you engage your core muscles. Slightly lower your leg and lift it again, repeating eight to 10 times before switching sides.

Just Have Fun

The exponential growth of pickleball – even celebrities such as LeBron James are jumping in -- is for one simple reason: it’s fun.

The good news is that you don’t need professional skills to enjoy it — and get great exercise. And with a modest investment in shoes and equipment, paired with warmups and stretching, you can do it safely. So get unplugged and grab some fresh air on the pickleball court.

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