Pickle Pain: Rising Pickleball Injuries Could Result in 67,000 ER Visits This Year
Surely you’ve heard of pickleball, the trendy new recreational activity that looks like an amalgam of tennis and ping-pong, with some badminton thrown in. While knocking a ball underhand on a modestly sized court appears to be low impact, injuries from the game might cost the U.S. healthcare system approximately $377 million this year.
According to CNN, analysts with USB are forecasting that pickleball could represent 5 to 10 percent of unforeseen medical expenses for 2023, including 67,000 emergency room visits, 366,000 outpatient visits, and 9000 outpatient surgeries. The court size is smaller and the ball moves slower than in tennis, which allows people of all ages to play at a competitive level. From young families to retirees, pickleball is a fun, social, low-impact way to stay active.
As enjoyable and beneficial as pickleball can be, like with all sports, it’s important to take some steps to prevent injury so you can stay on the court.
Also see: Top Common Sports Injuries
The Rise in Injuries
As pickleball courts have multiplied and more people take up the sport, the number of pickleball-related injuries has also increased. Emergency Rooms have reported a steady stream of patients seeking treatment for various injuries sustained while playing pickleball. Several factors contribute to this trend:
- Increased Participation. The more people playing pickleball, the higher the chances of injuries occurring. A larger player pool naturally results in more accidents.
- Age Demographics. While pickleball is inclusive for all ages, it is particularly popular among older adults. As we age, our bodies become more susceptible to injury, even in low-impact activities.
- Competitive Play. As players become more skilled and competitive, they may push themselves harder, increasing the risk of accidents during intense rallies and quick movements.
Common Pickleball Injuries
These are the most common injuries we see in our orthopedic clinic as a result of pickleball:
- Sprained Ankles. Quick lateral movements and changes in direction can strain ankle ligaments, leading to sprains. Proper footwear is crucial in preventing this injury.
- Pickleball Elbow. Similar to tennis elbow, this condition results from repetitive motions, causing pain and inflammation in the elbow joint. Adequate warm-up and cool-down exercises can help mitigate this issue.
- Knee Injuries. The stop-and-start nature of pickleball can put pressure on the knees, leading to issues like patellar tendonitis and meniscus tears. Knee braces and proper technique can reduce the risk.
- Shoulder Strains. Overhead shots and serves can strain the shoulder muscles and tendons. Strengthening exercises and proper form are essential in preventing these injuries.
- Falls and Fractures. The quick pace of pickleball can lead to players tripping or colliding with each other, resulting in falls and fractures, particularly in older players.
Preventing Pickleball Injuries
As with all sports, injury prevention is key. Fortunately, there are many ways you can prevent an injury from happening:
- Proper Warm-up and Cool-down. Start with gentle stretching and warm-up exercises to prepare your muscles for play. Afterward, cool down with stretching to prevent muscle tightness.
- Footwear. Invest in proper pickleball shoes with good lateral support to reduce the risk of ankle injuries.
- Technique Matters. Learn and practice correct pickleball techniques, including proper grip, posture, and footwork.
- Conditioning. Strengthening exercises for the muscles used in pickleball, such as legs, core, and shoulders, can improve your overall performance and reduce the risk of injury.
- Stay Hydrated. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramps and decreased performance. Drink water regularly during play.
Also see: Dehydration and How to Avoid It
What to do If you get Injured
Unfortunately, injuries are unavoidable in any sport. Most minor sprains and strains should be managed with the basics of RICE. If you injure any joint, immediately:
- Rest it
- Apply ice to minimize the inflammation that will develop in the injured tissue (ligaments, tendons, etc.)
- Apply compression with an elastic bandage
- Elevate the injury to minimize swelling
While pickleball is a fantastic sport that promotes physical activity and social interaction, it's essential to be aware of the rising number of injuries associated with it. By taking precautions and following safety guidelines, players can enjoy pickleball without risking a trip to the emergency room. Remember that, like any sport, pickleball has its risks, but with proper care and attention to your physical well-being, you can minimize these risks and continue to have fun on the court.
Also see: 7 Ways to Prevent Hip Injuries
Pickleball Injuries : What Seniors Need to Know
Overuse injuries and joint injuries are a risk when playing pickleball. Repetitive motions in pickleball, such as swinging the paddle, can lead to overuse injuries. Common overuse injuries include tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), shoulder impingement, and wrist strains. Be mindful of your technique, take breaks when needed, and gradually increase your playing time to avoid overloading your joints and tendons. Joint injuries, particularly in the knees and ankles, can occur during sudden movements or changes in direction. Ensure you have proper footwear and maintain good form while playing, avoiding excessive twisting or pivoting motions that could strain your joints.
Here are some important things that seniors should know about pickleball injuries:
- Use sun protection. If you’re playing outdoors, protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays by wearing sunscreen, a hat, and UV-protective clothing to reduce the risk of sunburn and skin damage.
- Hydrate. Stay properly hydrated before, during, and after playing pickleball. Dehydration can affect your performance and increase the risk of muscle cramps and fatigue.
- Listen to your body. Pay attention to any pain, discomfort, or fatigue during or after playing. If you experience persistent pain or notice an injury, it’s important to rest, apply ice to the affected area, and seek medical attention if necessary.
- Modify intensity and duration as needed. As a senior, it’s important to understand your physical limitations. Adjust the intensity and duration of your pickleball sessions to match your fitness level and overall health. Gradually increase your activity level over time to prevent overexertion.
- Balance and falls. Balance issues can be a concern for seniors. It’s important to work on improving balance through specific exercises and maintaining a stable stance during pickleball. Take extra precautions to prevent falls, such as using proper footwear and avoiding slippery or uneven surfaces.
- Keep a balanced exercise routine. Regular physical activity, including pickleball, can help improve overall fitness, cardiovascular health, coordination, and bone density. However, it’s essential to maintain a balanced exercise routine that includes strength training, flexibility exercises, and rest days to prevent overuse injuries.
Remember, this blog provides general information and should not replace professional medical advice. If appropriate, you can take over-the-counter medications to help relieve the pain and swelling. If you are unable to move the joint and worry there could be a fracture and/or dislocation, seek professional medical attention for an X-ray and further evaluation. You can start with your primary care physician—keep in mind that he or she may refer you to an orthopedic specialist if necessary, please visit or call our Nearest Emergency Room for the immediate medical help. We have board-certified physicians, nurses and staff to help you recover and give appropriate treatment and medical advice.
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