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Healthy You

Avoiding Injury While Playing The Most Popular Sport In America: Pickleball

Thursday, January 12, 2023 2:36 PM

By Karyn Odway

It’s attracting some five million Americans, becoming the fastest growing sport in the country. Are you among the people hitting the courts playing pickleball? And among the ones getting hurt? Yes, with the popularity of pickleball comes an uptick in injuries.  

“We are seeing more pickleball-related injuries at our clinic as more people play it,” said Danielle Bass, MD,  primary care sports medicine specialist at the NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute. “More clubs are offering it, but you can play anywhere – in parks, and some people even are creating their own courts at playgrounds or in parking lots.”

The Journal of Emergency Medicine estimates some 19,000 pickleball injuries per year. Ninety percent of those injuries involved people age 50 and older – impacting men and women equally.

Dr. Bass said some people playing are not conditioned for the sport, so that increases the risk of injury.

“It’s a social game so people who have never played are playing with friends but then getting injured. It’s a fast-paced game, so people are at greater risk for injury.”

A pickleball player is serving on a court.Common Injuries

Some of the more common injuries include twisting the ankle and knee, resulting in sprains and strains. But injuries can be more serious, such as tears to the meniscus or lateral collateral ligaments in the knee, due to quick side movements. A player trying to soften the blow of a fall with their hand often injures their wrist. Doctors also have seen rib fractures. For more steady and serious players, rotator cuff tendinitis can develop from repetitive use.

Ways to Stay in the Game

What’s the best way to avoid these injuries? Dr. Bass – who plays pickleball herself every now and then – suggests these three moves:

  • Warm up.  Do a light jog and stretches for five minutes before hitting the court to get your muscles warm for pickleball play. 
  • Cool down. While muscles are still warm, stretch again, to avoid stiffening and leaving you prone to pain or injury next time you play.
  • Keep conditioned. Doing cardio and strengthen training (both upper and lower body) on non-pickleball play days will help you stay injury-free when you step back on the court.

Need help with a sports injury? Consider visiting a NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute Immediate Care location for convenience and specialized orthopaedic care.

Interested in playing pickleball? Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights has a pickleball court that is open to the public! If you would like to attend Open Play Time or reserve the court, please call 847-618-3501 or contact Gilda Khalaj, Group Exercise Coordinator, at Gkhalaj@nch.org. Lessons are also available for a nominal fee. Advance registration is required.