Pickleball is one of the hottest games in the world of sports activities. A combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, with a little chess finesse thrown in, pickleball is played with 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 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,” said Dr. Nickolas Linkous, Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgery Specialist at ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain in Appleton. “It engages many muscle groups and provides cardiovascular exercise. It’s also easy to learn and is a social activity.”
As with any sport, there’s the potential for injury. Because it’s an easy game to learn, pickleball can be deceptive of the demands it places on one’s body. 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 over exert themselves if they are not well conditioned before they begin playing pickleball,” Dr. Linkous said. “Overuse injuries are common, especially in those who may have previous joint injuries and arthritis. People over 50 are also more susceptible to strains, sprains, and fractures, which are some of the more common pickleball injuries.”
Common 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
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 there’s 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, and tennis shoes, not running shoes, are more appropriate for pickleball “Proper shoes are very important,” Dr. Linkous said. “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.
Dr. Linkous again stressed that playing pickleball puts more stress on the body than people realize.
“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,” he said. “Strong core muscles, reasonably good balance and some level of agility are needed before jumping into pickleball. Someone who hasn’t been working out for some time should do some basic exercise and stretching routines for a while to get their muscles in shape and then ease into the sport.”
Walk-In Care Options
For those who may suffer a minor injury while playing pickleball, the Walk-In Clinic at ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain Center in Appleton can offer help. It’s available to anyone who is suffering from a broken bone, muscle injury, work injury, swollen joint, sprain, strain, back pain, fracture or dislocation.
“If a person is experiencing pain that restricts their movement or inhibits their lifestyle, we are here to help,” Dr. Linkous said. “At their first visit, patients 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, 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. To save time ahead of your visit, go to www.thedacare.org/orthonow and click on “I’m On My Way.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.