Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. It is played indoors or outdoors on a badminton court with a slightly modified tennis net and lightweight racquets and balls. Some 4.8 million Americans played pickleball in 2021, according to USA Pickleball, and more than half of those considered “core” — or regular — players were 55 or older.
Experts point out that pickleball is a safe sport for all ages – but it is a sport, so warming up, preparing to play longer and using the right equipment are keys to avoiding Achilles tendon injuries and more.
One analysis, using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), used a sample of 300 ER visits for pickleball injuries to extrapolate that there were some 19,000 ER visits for pickleball injuries. pickleball from 2001 to 2017, and that the rate of injuries increased as the popularity of pickleball grew. People 50 and older accounted for nearly 91% of patients, according to the study.
For older players, muscle sprains and strains from slips and falls on the court are common risks.
Most plays are underhanded, but strains or tears in the rotator cuff of the shoulder can also result from overhand volleys or repetitive stretches for the ball, although such injuries occur more often in tennis where strength of the ball is larger and where a greater part of the game involves head-butting.
Bumps and bruises caused by falls, sprained ankles, broken wrists, and strained muscles and tendonitis caused by overeating are also part of the game.
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A recent study compared annual tennis injuries with pickleball injuries between 2010 and 2019, tracking the most common injuries in both sports among people over 60. For pickleball, according to the study, older women were at greater risk than men for trips and falls leading to the wrist. broken bones; men were at higher risk for lower leg injuries, including the Achilles tendon. (The study also relied on NEISS data.)
“Hardly anyone played pickleball at the start of the study, but as the sport exploded over the period, pickleball play and related injuries went from almost nothing to a rapid increase over that decade. , especially in the last few years,” says Harold. Weiss, adjunct associate professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, who co-authored the study. Weiss, a pickleball enthusiast, points out that it is not possible to calculate the injury rate per pickleball player because there is not enough data yet.
A former squash and racquetball player, Weiss, 71, took up pickleball when he found other sports were too hard on his body – although he too suffered his share of twisted ankles and occasional pulled muscles in the back and leg.
“I changed overnight,” he says. “There’s not as much speed, you don’t have as much surface to cover, no air smash, lighter racquet and ball – and that’s fun, which is why I think people It’s also a great workout.
Pickleball fans praise its social appeal. “We’ve made a lot of new friends, and laughter is a huge part of the game,” says Robin Dobler, 66, of Westerville, Ohio, who started the game in 2021. “Our Friday band plays from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the morning, then we’ll all have lunch afterwards.
“I’m absolutely hooked,” adds Dobler, a retired physical therapist assistant.
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One thing to be careful about, however, is not to overdo it too soon. Warm up first and take it easy.
“People go from nothing to playing pickleball five days a week, and they’re going to get overuse injuries,” says Nicholas Greiner, an osteopath who practices sports medicine in St. Louis. Greiner conducted a 2019 review of common injuries associated with pickleball. “The only thing I tell people is to take it step by step.”
And while emphasizing the safety of pickleball in general, Greiner and others recommend that older participants take extra precautions against falls, which can be especially dangerous in this age group. One way to reduce the risk is to wear “court” shoes designed for pickleball and tennis, they say.
“There’s a lot of side-to-side movement” in pickleball, Greiner says. “We tend to be direct with our movements in our daily activities. We walk straight. We drive straight. We run straight. Sometimes we lose our balance control with sideways movements, so falls can be a risk.
While playing one day last fall, Dobler ran wide to return a ball, planted his right foot and turned towards his opponents – and felt instant pain inside his right knee. She tried to keep playing, but it hurt. Later, she iced the knee, did strengthening exercises, and received an injection to lubricate the joint. She improved quickly and wasted no time returning to court.
“I would play every day if my body allowed me to,” she says.
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DC podiatrist Sheldon Laps says he often sees inversion ankle sprains from pickleball, injuries that occur when the foot twists upward and the ankle rolls inward, often the result of inappropriate footwear.
Many runners who play pickleball assume they can play in running shoes: don’t. Instead, wear pumps. They are designed for pickleball, tennis and other sports that involve lateral movement.
“Many running shoes today have a ‘rocker’ sole, which means when looking at the shoe from the side, the forefoot of the shoe is curved upwards,” explains Laps. . “It makes it easier to push while running and walking. But shoes with rocker-type soles should not be used for playing court sports. Side-to-side movement on a pickleball court increases the likelihood of the player twisting their foot at the ankle and, therefore, spraining their ankle.
As with all sports, experts recommend warming up first — taking an easy jog or walk, or pedaling a stationary bike to break up a light sweat — and stretching, “so you don’t shock the muscles when you start playing,” Greiner said.
Other things to remember: If any part of your body hurts after the game, put ice on it for 20 minutes. Bring a bottle of water and drink frequently to avoid dehydration. If you play outside, wear a brim hat or visor and use plenty of sunscreen. And use eye protection – there have been reports of eye injuries from being hit in the eye with a ball or paddle.
“Injuries are a part of all sports,” says Greiner, who also plays. “But if you take the right steps, pickleball is a great sport – even at a high level of play there is less risk of injury than in many of our other traditional sports. And it’s a fun game.