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Common pickleball injuries and how to treat them

Pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in the country, but the increase in participation has also led to a rise in pickleball injuries.

Tayla Holman
July 03, 2024
Black woman playing pickleball with white male partner on an outdoor court.
Pickleball’s popularity has grown quickly in recent years.

Pickleball has exploded in popularity in recent years, growing more than 223% since 2020 and continuing to be the country's fastest-growing sport. A cross between badminton, pingpong and tennis, pickleball appeals to players of all ages and skill levels because of its accessibility. Played with a perforated plastic ball and composite or wooden paddles about twice the size of pingpong paddles, it is easier to pick up than most racket sports due to its slower pace and smaller playing area.

Although pickleball is less demanding on the body than many other sports, it's not completely without risk. As the sport has increased in popularity, so has the number of pickleball injuries. Overuse injuries are the most common, but more acute injuries such as sprains and muscle tears can occur as well. Listening to your body is the best way to prevent pickleball injuries, but being aware of common injuries can also help reduce your risk.

What are the most common pickleball injuries?

When you repeatedly use a body part during sports or exercise, you put yourself at risk for an overuse injury. Pickleball is no different. If you play frequently, giving your body time to rest allows it to heal microtrauma that occurs over time because of repetitive movements. Microtraumas are small injuries to bones, ligaments, muscles or tendons. Pain and inflammation are usually the first signs of overuse injuries.

Pickleball elbow (similar to tennis elbow) is a common overuse injury that occurs when one of the large tendons on the outside of the elbow becomes inflamed or irritated. Although it happens as a result of repeated stress, poor mechanics when performing a backhand motion can also cause injury to the tendon. Most often, this injury occurs in players who rely excessively on their wrists when hitting backhand shots. You can work with a coach to fix your backhand swing mechanics and avoid putting too much stress on the elbow and forearm in the future.

Other common pickleball injuries include:

  • Achilles tendonitis: An overuse injury of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone.
  • Back pain: Often a result of poor posture or improper technique. Players may hunch or round their backs while playing pickleball, causing back soreness over time.
  • Dislocated shoulder: A dislocated shoulder occurs when the upper arm bone pops out of the shoulder socket. This can happen falling on your shoulder or from extreme twisting of your shoulder joint, which is common in racket sports.
  • Knee injuries: Common knee injuries include jumper's knee, meniscus tears and runner's knee. Jumper's knee involves inflammation of the patellar tendon, which connects the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone. Meniscus tears occur when the meniscus — cartilage in the knee — tears during sudden movements. Runner's knee refers to inflammation in the iliotibial band, a thick band of tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh.
  • Rotator cuff injuries: These are injuries to the rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that keep the shoulder in place. They can include tendinitis — the swelling of pinched tendons — and bursitis — inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac between the rotator cuff and shoulder bones. Rotator cuff tears can also occur because of a fall or lifting something heavy.
  • Shoulder sprains and strains: Shoulder sprains happen when a ligament in the shoulder is stretched too far. Strains occur when a muscle or tendon is overstretched.

What to do if you get injured playing pickleball

Pickleball is relatively safe, but as with any sport, there is still some risk of injury. Depending on the type of injury you experience, treatment may be as simple as putting down the racquet for a bit. Allowing your body to rest can aid recovery from pickleball elbow and other overuse injuries.

Microtears usually heal within a couple of days, so if you feel pain after a match, it's a good sign you should take a break. This is especially true for people who already have conditions such as arthritis that might worsen from overuse. Injuries such as strains can benefit from taking a rest from activity which caused the injury, elevation of the injured area, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and controlled movement to maintain function and blood flow.

For acute injuries such as sprained ankles, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible to avoid further injury. Your doctor may take an X-ray to make sure there is no damage to the bone.

How to prevent pickleball injuries

Pickleball can be a great sport for nonathletes and people who want to become more active. But it's important not to overexert yourself. Because of pickleball's accessibility, it can be easy to overlook the potential for overuse or other injuries. Older adults especially should know their limitations. Start slowly, listen to your body and stop if you feel pain. Staying active outside of pickleball is a good way to keep yourself limber and less prone to injury.

Stretching before and after you play can help prevent injury. Always warm up before you stretch and make sure you aren't just stretching one specific muscle and neglecting others. Dynamic warm-ups — a series of movements that raise your heart rate while you stretch — can ensure your muscles are warm and ready to go once you step onto the court. It's also a good idea to warm up using moves you'll use during any physical activity.

As pickleball continues to surge in popularity, it's important for players to recognize the potential risks involved. Although the sport lends itself to players of all ages and skill levels, anyone can experience injuries. With proper preventive measures, you can keep pickleball injuries at bay and have a good time while playing.

July 03, 2024