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What in the Pickleball? Injuries Related to America’s Fastest Growing Sport.

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport of 2024 in the United States and over the past four years, pickleball has grown >223% and now exceeds 36 million players country-wide. The spike in pickleball popularity started largely due to COVID-19. Pickleball allows people to stay active, socialize at a distance, and is accessible to a wide range of ages and athletic abilities. 

As a physical therapist of seven years, I never saw a pickleball player until 2021 and now pickleball players are one of the most common athletes I see in the clinic.

Pickleball players become utterly enthralled in the sport often playing 2-3 hours, 5-6 days per week. With this, pickleball players present often with repetitive based injuries. Although pickleball is popular with people of all ages, the greatest popularity is seen in those ages 55+ which can lead to higher injury rates. 

In this article we will explore the three most common injuries seen within the physical therapy setting related to pickleball and what you can do to help reduce your risk of injury and keep you on the court…

  1. Shoulder injuries: Pickleball requires repetitive overhead reaching and shoulder movements to perform ground strokes, serves, and overheads. The most commonly seen shoulder injuries include: rotator cuff tears, tendonitis, and shoulder impingement.
  • Prevention: Be sure to warm up thoroughly prior to playing, focus on targeted rotator cuff and scapular strengthening exercises, and ensure good mobility of the shoulders and upper back.
  1. Elbow injuries: The repetitive swinging motion in pickleball can put strain on the tendons and ligaments of the elbow And lead to lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) and  medial epicondylitis (golfers elbow).
  • Prevention: Ensure you are using a properly sized grip for your paddle, gradually increase playing duration and frequency to allow your tendons to adapt, and utilize bracing if you have a history of elbow pain.
  1. Knee injuries: Quick lateral movements and sudden stops are common in pickleball and can increase the risk of knee injuries, including sprains, strains, and even ligament tears such as the ACL.
  • Prevention: Ensure you are working on lower extremity and core strengthening exercises as well as balance exercises off the court. Wear supportive shoes with good traction and avoid playing on courts when they are wet or slippery.

Pickleball is a fantastic sport to keep you active and a great way to socialize with others of the same interest. It is a sport that is easily accessible and is going to continue to rise in popularity. With this, if you are a current player or plan to give it a try it’s important to be aware of the potential injury risks. By understanding common pickleball injuries and taking proactive steps to prevent them, you can minimize the likelihood of being sidelined by pain or injury. Prioritize proper technique, adequate warm-up/cool-down routines, and overall physical conditioning to keep yourself healthy and performing at your best on the pickleball court!

Author

Dr. Kaitlin Bailey

PT, DPT, FMS, Cert.DN, Owner and Founder

We help active individuals and athletes conquer pain, overcome injury, and return to the activities they love through individualized, one-on-one, physical therapy and wellness services provided by a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

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