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Pickleball Injuries: What Are They And How To Prevent Them

Cartoon images of injured pickleball player on the court

Have you ever experienced a strain, sprain, or another typical pickleball injury? For some people, injuries are common and can cause you to be sidelined!  While this might be discouraging for players at any level, from beginners to advanced, there are ways to prevent pickleball injuries while out on the pickleball court!

As pickleball gurus here at Simply Pickleball, our experts will cover some of the most common injuries, how exercise can help, and how to stay safe. From stretches before playing to what to wear, we’ll explore all crucial elements when keeping yourself safe while playing pickleball, focusing on injury prevention. 

So, let’s answer the first question before delving deeper:

Shoulder strains or tears are the most common upper extremity injuries due to the overhead motions of hitting the ball. Warm-up exercises, stretching, strength and endurance, balance and coordination, and recovery and mobility can prevent injuries while playing.

With the quick takeaway in place, let’s start by uncovering more about the typical Pickleball injuries you may encounter.

Cartoon graphic of an injured pickleball player

What are the most common Pickleball injuries?

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport, with millions of active players worldwide. This fun and competitive game may look easy, but it requires skill, speed, and agility. Unfortunately, like any physical activity, the repetitive nature of pickleball can pose a risk of injury, especially for older adults.

According to analysis using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), one study found around 19,000 emergency room visits for pickleball injuries from 2001 to 2017. The study also discovered that as pickleball’s popularity grew, so did the number of injuries, with 91 percent of the patients aged 50 and older. 

So, what type of common pickleball injuries should you be looking out for? 

Acute Injuries

Acute injuries in pickleball refer to sudden and immediate injuries that typically result from a specific incident or trauma during play. These injuries can include:

  1. Sprains and Strains: Overstretching or tearing of ligaments (sprains) or muscles/tendons (strains) due to sudden movements, twists, or impacts.

  2. Fractures: Breaks or cracks in bones, often resulting from falls, collisions, or forceful impacts on hard surfaces.

  3. Dislocations: Occur when the ends of the bones are forced out of their normal positions at a joint, commonly due to sudden twists or impacts.

  4. Contusions (Bruises): Result from blunt force trauma to the body, causing discoloration and swelling due to damaged blood vessels under the skin.

  5. Lacerations: Cuts or tears in the skin, often caused by contact with equipment or surfaces during play.

Hand and Finger Injuries

Hand and finger injuries in pickleball often stem from direct impact with the paddle or ball, leading to sprains, strains, or fractures. Jamming fingers against the paddle, hyperextension during play, incorrect gripping techniques, repetitive swinging motions, and collisions with the court surface can also cause these injuries.

Shoulder Injuries

A shoulder strain or tear is one of the most common injuries in pickleball. The repetitive overhead motions in hitting the ball can cause wear and tear to the rotator cuff and other muscles in your shoulder. 

To prevent shoulder injuries, warm up before playing, stretch your shoulders, and avoid using excessive force when serving or smashing. 

It’s also crucial to use proper technique and lightweight paddles that reduce strain on your joints and prevent injury.

Ankle Sprains

Ankle injuries are also prevalent in pickleball due to the fast-moving and sudden stopping motions involved in the game. Ankle sprains can range from mild to severe, causing pain, swelling, and difficulty walking.

To prevent ankle injuries, wear proper shoes that provide stability and grip, warm up before playing, and avoid playing on slippery surfaces. You should also practice proper footwork and avoid sudden directional changes or pivots.

Tennis Elbow or Pickleball Elbow

Pickleball elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a condition that involves pain and inflammation in the outer part of the elbow. This injury often occurs in pickleball players who use incorrect grip techniques or overuse forearm muscles. 

To prevent tennis elbow, use a comfortable paddle that fits your hand size, adjust your grip to reduce strain, and limit your playing time to avoid fatigue. 

You can also strengthen your arm muscles through exercises or seek medical treatment if you experience severe pain or swelling in your elbow.

Knee Injuries

Knee injuries in pickleball can result from sudden twists, turns, or jumps, causing strains, sprains, or damage to ligaments and cartilage. 

To avoid knee injury:

  • Wear proper shoes that provide support and cushioning. Do not wear running shoes to play pickleball.

  • Warm up before playing.

  • Avoid playing on hard surfaces. 

You could also try balance and body mechanics, maintain a healthy weight, and do strength-building exercises for your lower body. 

Learn more about when to replace your pickleball shoes to ensure you’re always playing with optimal support.

Image of a person massaging their knee after sustaining a pickleball injury

Wrist Strains

Wrist strains occur when the wrist is subjected to excessive force or repetitive motions. This injury can cause pain, swelling, and weakness in the wrist and hand. Wrist strains are common in pickleball players who grip the paddle too tightly or use improper techniques. 

To prevent wrist strains, use a light paddle that fits your hand comfortably, adjust your grip to reduce tension, and avoid excessive wrist movements. 

You can also do wrist-strengthening exercises or wear a wrist brace for support.

Lower Back Strains

Lower back strains in pickleball can result from:

  • Quick, twisting movements needed for returns and direction changes.

  • Frequent bending or improper techniques while reaching for shots.

  • Overextending during powerful or wide-reaching shots.

  • Incorrect posture or body mechanics during play.

  • Insufficient warm-up or lack of core strength and flexibility.

Calf Muscle Injury

Common calf muscle injuries can include:

  1. Calf Strains: These occur when the calf muscles are stretched beyond their limits, leading to tears in the muscle fibers. This can happen during quick accelerations, sudden stops, or when pushing off forcefully to change direction.

  2. Calf Cramps: Intense, involuntary contractions of the calf muscles can occur due to dehydration, muscle fatigue, or inadequate stretching before or during play.

  3. Achilles Tendonitis: While not strictly a calf muscle injury, it affects the area where the calf muscles connect to the Achilles tendon. It can result from overuse, repetitive strain, or sudden increases in activity levels, causing pain and inflammation in the tendon.

Preventing these injuries involves proper warm-ups, stretching the calf muscles, calf raises, staying hydrated, gradually increasing activity levels, and using proper footwear to support the feet and lower legs during gameplay.

Pro tip – Wearing protective eyewear can prevent eye injuries common in many sports, including pickleball.

A pickleball player stretching his arm to prevent pickleball injuries

How Can You Prevent Pickleball Injuries?

Now we’ve seen some of the most common Pickleball injuries, and how to deal with them, you might be wondering if there are any preventative steps you can take to keep on top of your game! 

You can just read on to discover more. 

The Importance of Warm-Up Exercises

Warm-up exercises are essential for preventing injuries while playing Pickleball. They help to increase blood flow to the muscles and prepare them for physical activity. 

Before your next match, focus on exercises such as jumping jacks, lunges, leg swings, and circular shoulder rotations. 

Warm up at least 10-15 minutes before you begin playing.

Stretching and Flexibility

Stretching is an excellent technique to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. It is best to stretch any time after you warm up your body. 

Aim to stretch your quads, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, neck, back, and hips before and after the Pickleball game. Always be gentle and kind to yourself, and never force a stretch that hurts. 

Remember that the goal of stretching is to feel tension, not pain.

Image of a man stretching and warming up prior to playing pickleball to prevent injury

Strength Training and Endurance

Strength training and endurance is one way to avoid injury while playing Pickleball. 

Strengthening exercises for the legs, core, and upper body can make you stronger and less prone to injuries while building stamina decreases fatigue and shakiness during longer games. 

Some essential exercises for upper and lower body strength:

  • Squats 

  • Deadlifts 

  • Bench presses 

  • Pull-ups 

  • Push-ups  

Balance and Coordination

Balance is the key to Pickleball and helps your agility and coordination. Some exercises that improve coordination are squats on a stability ball, a balance board, and agility ladder drills. 

Improving your balance and coordination will help you make quick movements and, crucially, help prevent more injuries while playing Pickleball.

Recovery and Mobility Work

After playing Pickleball, similar to any sport, it’s essential to cool down and work on recovery and mobility to avoid injuries. 

Cooling down exercises such as walking, jogging slowly for 10-20 minutes, foam rolling, and using a ball to massage tight muscles in your legs, hips, and shoulders will help you recover quickly. 

Stretching is another excellent recovery and mobility work to help keep your muscles loose and flexible after the game.

Types of Protective Equipment

Tips for protecting yourself and preventing injury while actively on the court. 

  • Shoes: One of the most crucial protective gear for pickleball is shoes. The right shoes are essential for preventing slips and falls, which is critical in pickleball. Look for shoes with a non-slip sole and ankle support to provide the stability you need to move side-to-side quickly. Your shoe size also matters- the shoes should always fit you snugly so there is no movement when playing. Also, could you consider some breathable, cushioning socks for added support? 

  • Paddles: The paddle is the most critical piece of equipment in pickleball, and it is essential to find the right one. Consider the weight, grip size, and material when selecting a paddle. Heavier paddles are more powerful but need more effort, making them challenging to control. Graphite or carbon fiber paddles are lightweight and offer more control and power than wooden paddles. A comfortable grip size is essential so your hands don’t slip during a shot.

  • Eye protection: Eye injuries are common in many sports, and pickleball is no exception. A ball hitting you in the eye can lead to a painful and potentially vision-threatening injury. Wearing protective eyewear can prevent such injuries. Please look for goggles designed for pickleball to provide maximum protection without compromising your vision.

  • Clothing: Comfortable clothing is essential for a good and safe game of pickleball. Opt for breathable and moisture-wicking clothing to keep you dry and comfortable throughout the game. Also, avoid loose-fitting clothing – it can get caught in the paddle or ball, leading to obstruction and possible injuries.

  • Headwear: Most pickleball players do not wear helmets; however, having something to protect your head from injuries is essential. Headbands or hats are an excellent option to reduce sweat dripping down your face. 

Explore our recommended pickleball accessories to find gear that can help prevent injuries and enhance your playing experience.

How to Treat Pickleball-Related Injuries

Regrettably, injuries are an inevitable part of any sport. Most minor sprains and strains can be handled using the RICE method. If you happen to injure any joint, follow these immediate steps:

  1. Rest the injured area.

  2. Apply ice to reduce inflammation in the affected tissue (such as ligaments, tendons, etc.).

  3. Use compression with an elastic bandage.

  4. Elevate the injury to minimize swelling.

If suitable, consider using over-the-counter medications to alleviate pain and swelling. If you are unable to move the joint and have concerns about a possible fracture or dislocation, seek professional medical attention for an X-ray and further assessment. Begin by consulting your primary care physician, but be aware they might refer you to an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist for physical therapy.

Pickleball Injuries - Conclusion

Pickleball is a unique, family-friendly activity for all ages and skill levels. Please be sure to warm up properly before playing. If you suffer a pickleball injury, getting it checked out by your physician or physical therapist as soon as possible is usually best. 

Understanding the different types of injuries can help you be better prepared to prevent them from happening in the first place, and we can all stay safe on the court! 

For more help and reviews from our pickleball enthusiasts, Don’t forget to check out our weekly blog updates for all things pickleball!

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