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Enjoy Pickleball Safely

Last updated: March 13, 2023

Because [pickleball is] an easy game to learn, people aren’t as aware that it’s important to be in fairly good physical condition before playing.

Dr. Nickolas Linkous, Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgery Specialist, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care

If you’re a pickleball fanatic, you’re one of many. The popularity of the sport continues to skyrocket, as courts and programs pop up across the country.

Pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, with a little chess finesse thrown in. It uses a racquet and a ball, similar to a whiffle ball, on a smaller court.

After becoming mainstream in the early 2000s, pickleball participation has doubled since 2014, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. With the addition of outdoor courts, the game became even more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with adults over 50. Visit your local YMCA and you’ll likely find an active group of pickleball players.

“Pickleball is a great recreational activity,” says Dr. Nickolas Linkous, Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgery Specialist with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “It engages many muscle groups and provides cardiovascular exercise. It’s also easy to learn and is a social activity.”

Potential for Injury

As with any sport, pickleball carries a potential for injury. A 2019 report in the Journal of Emergency Medicine highlighted 19,000 pickleball injuries in 2017, with 90% of those injuries happening to people over the age of 50.

“It’s easy for people to overexert themselves if they are not well conditioned before they begin playing pickleball,” Dr. Linkous says. “Overuse injuries are common, especially in those who have previous joint injuries and arthritis. People over 50 also are more susceptible to strains, sprains and fractures, which are some of the more common pickleball injuries.”

Pickleball injuries include:

  • Calf strains and tears
  • Flare-ups of knee arthritis
  • Herniated disks in the lower back
  • Meniscus tears
  • MCL and LCL strains
  • Plantar fasciitis          
  • Hamstring strains
  • Achilles injuries
  • Ankle sprains
  • Tennis and golfer’s elbow
  • Wrist tendinitis
  • Rotator cuff tendinitis and tears

Injury Prevention

Dr. Linkous offers the following advice to help avoid pickleball injuries:

  • Recognize your physical limitations. Start playing the game slowly to build up your endurance. Listen to your body; stop playing when you’re in pain.
  • Make time to warm up muscles before beginning a game. Jog in place, walk or do light running. Stretch all the major muscle groups, including the calves, quads, hamstrings, inner thighs, lower back, shoulders, elbows and wrists.
  • Use the right equipment. Make sure the racket fits your hand properly. Tennis shoes, not running shoes, are more appropriate for pickleball. “Proper shoes are important. Pickleball is a game of fast starts and stops and side-to-side movements that can contribute to falls, ankle sprains and Achilles injuries.”
  • Take a few pickleball lessons to learn proper form.
  • Follow an exercise recovery routine. Cool down by walking, stretching the large muscle groups and rehydrating.

“Because it’s an easy game to learn, people aren’t as aware that it’s important to be in fairly good physical condition before playing,” Dr. Linkous says.

Players should develop strong core muscles and some level of agility before jumping into pickleball, he continues. If you haven’t worked out for some time, you should do some basic exercise and stretching routines for a while to get your muscles in shape and then ease into the sport.

Walk-In Care Options

If you suffer a minor injury while playing pickleball, Orthopedic Walk-in Care at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain in Appleton can offer help. It’s available to those with conditions including fractures, sprains, pain, minor dislocations and swollen joints.

“If you’re experiencing pain that restricts your movement or inhibits your lifestyle, we’re here to help,” Dr. Linkous says. “At your first visit, you may have X-rays or other imaging taken, meet with a specialist provider, and receive an initial treatment. Providers also will arrange for follow-up care as needed, which may include pain management, physical therapy, a surgery consultation or other therapies.”

Orthopedic Walk-in Care at 2400 E. Capitol Drive, Appleton, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Save time at Orthopedic Walk-Care, and let us know you’re coming.

Tags: injuries orthopedics Pickleball safety ThedaCare Orthopedic Walk-in Care

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