Why pickleball players are getting paddled with injuries

Why pickleball players are getting paddled with injuries originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

What began as a pastime for Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington, and Bill Bell, a businessman, became a global sensation.

Pickleball was birthed in 1965 on Pritchard’s backyard in Bainbridge Island during a summer afternoon when he and his family had nothing else to do. They grabbed ping-pong paddles, a plastic perforated ball and set out to their badminton court to cook something up. Little did they know – they were creating a sport that would popularize decades later.

It’s now 2022 and pickleball has become one of America’s most popular pastimes, especially since the eruption of a global pandemic that forced humans to find ways to entertain themselves. 

And though the sport is all fun and games, if you can believe it, the sport actually coincides with quite the extensive list of injuries for those who embark. 

Looking to pick up a racket? Here’s a little insight as to what injuries you might encounter while on the court:

Are pickleball injuries prevalent?

Even before the pandemic, which erupted in the U.S. in March of 2020, pickleball injuries were suddenly skyrocketing. 

The Journal of Emergency Medicine published an analysis in 2019 that approximated 19,000 pickleball injuries in 2017. Ninety percent of these injuries affected people over the age of 50, with 50.4% being male.

It’s safe to say, pickleball injuries have only been increasing over the years – perhaps because the sport has become such a popular feat among ordinary people looking for a fun and friendly workout and even professional athletes.

What are the most prevalent pickleball injuries?

According to Noe Sariban, a pickleball instructor and former pro player and physical therapist, “Achilles’ strains or tears, shoulder problems, rotator cuff injuries, lower back problems such as disc injuries, muscle strains,” and more, are just some of the things that can go wrong.

There is even an injury that has been popularized with the title “pickleball elbow” – another name for tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis.

From 2010 to 2019, injuries escalated and the most common injuries included sprains, strains and fractures, according to the journal Injury Epidemiology.

How do pickleball injuries compare to tennis injuries?

In the Injury Epidemiology journal, a study said that by 2018, the number of pickleball emergency-room visits for people over the age of 60 just about equaled the number of tennis emergency-room visits.

“I think the movements are different. With tennis, it’s on a bigger court so it’s a little bit different, you have a lot of high swinging and stuff where a smaller court won’t be as much on the upper body because of the smaller surface area, but then the stress is on different areas,” explained Tanya Dargusch, LAT, ATC and member of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, in an interview with NBC Sports.

“Now you’re moving quicker right and left,” she added. That’s where proper footwear, agility practice, core strengthening and balance comes in.

Why are there so many injuries in pickleball?

The reason for this is simple – many people who pick up the sport are over the age of 40. In fact, the average age of a pickleball player is usually 38 but about 50% of players are 55 and above. Older folks are of course more prone to strains, fractures and sprains than younger people. 

“Most of it is from tripping,” said Dr. Amy Fenoglio in an interview with the New York Times.

How can a person protect themselves from pickleball injuries?

According to Dargusch, the best way to protect yourself is to prepare – anywhere from balance training to agility practice to core strengthening. 

“There’s a wide [range] of people that are starting to take up pickleball – people who are older – so a lot of times there is no preparation and that part is important,” added Dargusch.