Pickleball Injuries: What Doctors Say, and How to Prevent Them
Pickleball is a fun, low-impact racquet sport that is enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s no wonder that participation in the sport has almost tripled in the past three years, going from 3 million players in 2019 to about 8.9 million players in 2022. Experts say that number will skyrocket to 22 million this year!1 That makes pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America, but beware: pickleball injuries are on the rise!
With any sport, there’s always the risk of injury. In fact, pickleball injuries may cost Americans $377 million in healthcare costs this year alone, according to one recent study.2
The reason? Pickleball-related injuries occur most often in older adults, and the sport is very popular with seniors, who are more injury prone than younger athletes.
Sports Medicine Experts Weigh In
Orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians from coast to coast are seeing a spike in pickleball injuries. Here’s a quick sampling featured in recent news reports:
- Dr Luis Gandara, Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute, sees many pickleball injuries in which someone has aggravated chronic pain issues, such as existing arthritis in a hip or other joint.3
- Dr. Kathy at Rush Hospital notes common injuries such as strains, sprains, tendinitis, hand/wrist fractures, and ACL tears.4
- Dr. Jonathan Sum of the University of Southern California mentions seeing pickleball injuries including wrist strains and sprains, tendinopathy of the elbow, of rotator cuff injuries of the shoulder.5
- Dr. Atul Kaushal, a pain management specialist based in Michigan, cited ankle, leg and hip injuries, saying people who are over 40 years old are most at risk to get hurt playing the sport.6
- Dr. David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in North Carolina, said the five most common injuries he sees from pickleball players are ankle sprains, Achilles tendon strains/ruptures, hamstring/quadriceps strains, shoulder/rotator cuff tears, and wrist fractures.7
- Dr. Kavita Patel, a medical analysis for NBC News, mentioned one of the most common pickleball injuries is an Achilles tendon tear, which can be difficult to recover from.8
Below are some of the most common pickleball injuries.
Common Pickleball Lower Extremity Injuries
- Ankle sprains: Ankle sprains are probably the most common pickleball injury. They can occur when you twist your ankle while moving to hit the ball.
- Knee injuries: Knee injuries can also occur in pickleball, especially in older players. These injuries can be caused by overuse, twisting, or pivoting.
- Hip injuries: Hip injuries are less common than ankle or knee injuries, but they can still occur in pickleball. These injuries can be caused by overuse, twisting, or pivoting.
Upper Extremity Injuries in Pickleball
- Tennis elbow: Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a common injury that can occur in pickleball players. It is caused by overuse of the muscles in the forearm.
- Golfer's elbow: Golfer's elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is another common injury that can occur in pickleball players. It is caused by overuse of the muscles in the forearm.
- Shoulder injuries: Shoulder injuries can also occur in pickleball players, especially in overhead strokes. These injuries can be caused by overuse, improper technique, or a previous injury.
Other Pickleball Health Concerns
- Sunburn: Perhaps we’re stating the obvious, but be careful: sunburn can occur if you play pickleball in the sun, especially in intense sunlight, without sunscreen. To prevent sunburn, wear a hat, apply sunscreen before playing and reapply it every two hours.
How to Prevent and Protect Your Body
Although pickleball is considered less demanding than tennis or racquetball, injuries do happen. Here are several tips to prevent pickleball injuries, especially if you’re a beginner.
- Train and strengthen your body’s core, leg and hip muscles.
- Warm up before playing (light jog around the court or jumping jacks).
- Do some gentle stretching (hamstrings, quads, calves, shoulders and wrists).9
- Use proper technique (practice volleys and serves).
- Take frequent water breaks (drink plenty of water).
- Avoid overdoing it (no lunging or diving for the ball, or playing too hard or too long).
- Stop playing if you feel pain; don’t try to push through.
- Wear proper footwear (support your ankles).
- Wear a brace(s) on ankles, knees and/or elbows.
- Apply sunscreen and wear a hat if you are playing in the sun.
Florida-based orthopedic surgeon Alejandro Badia, MD, FACS, recommends the use of elastic braces, such as knee or ankle sleeves, when playing pickleball. Braces help your brain better sense where the joint is, Badia says, and how much you are bending or straining it.10
By following these tips, you can help reduce your risk of injury and enjoy pickleball for many years to come.
If you do get hurt, there are some steps you can take to treat a pickleball injury. For example, minor sprains and strains usually can be treated at home with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE).11 More serious injuries may require medical care. Don’t hesitate to contact a medical professional if you have any doubts or concerns.
- Sports and Fitness Industry Association, 2022
- UBS, 2023
- Newsmax Health, 7/12/23
- WGN-TV, 7/8/23
- KSFM-TV, 7/11/23
- WOOD-TV, 7/6/23
- CNBC News, 6/27/23
- Hospital for Special Surgery
- The Healthy @ Readers’ Digest, 2023
- Scripps Health, 7/19/23