Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing and most popular sports. People of all ages, from beginners to more competitive players, can enjoy it.
Like all sports, pickleball can come with injuries. Some pickleball injuries are avoidable. But when they do occur, you can get the treatment you need to get back on the court and enjoy all that pickleball has to offer.
What Are Some Common Pickleball Injuries?
Pickleball injuries can occur in nearly any part of the body, from ankles to knees and shoulders to wrists. Players over 60 years old accounted for 85% of pickleball-related emergency room visits from 2010 to 2019, according to a 2022 analysis in the journal Injury Epidemiology. Injuries can happen to players of all ages and experience levels, however.
Some pickleball injuries are acute, which means they happen without warning due to slips, trips, and falls. Others are chronic, meaning they happen over time. Chronic injuries are usually due to overuse and may include:
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Pickleball Strains, Sprains, and Fractures
Pickleball-related injuries are often mild but occasionally more serious. It is common for participants to experience the following injuries:
Ankle strains and sprains
An ankle sprain involves an injury to the ligament. Pain is usually felt on the outside of the ankle. It may or may not immediately bruise and swell. A strain results from overstretching or tearing muscles or tendons.
Achilles tendon strains and sprains
An injury to the tendon or muscle group on the back of the ankle is very common in people over the age of 40. A ruptured tendon is the most serious injury and requires immediate medical attention. When a tendon ruptures, there is a sudden snap or pop and intense pain. An obvious indentation appears in the Achilles tendon area, and the injured person cannot walk.
Knee strains and sprains
A sprain can occur when the knee twists or rotates awkwardly. The most common sprain is a medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain. Pain from an MCL injury is most acute on the inside of the knee, just to the side of the kneecap.
Hamstring, groin, and quad strains and sprains
Hamstring strains, generally caused by overextending or reaching to return a ball, are quite common in pickleball. The most serious hamstring injury, a tear, will show an indentation.
Shoulder strains and sprains
Shoulder strains usually result from overuse. Too many overheads or simply playing for too long and too often can put too much stress on the shoulder and take a toll over time. A shoulder injury can also occur on a single overhead smash. In that instance, the rotator cuff muscles (top of the shoulder) can acutely strain and even tear.
When pain occurs on the bottom of the heel with every step, it is also an overuse injury that occurs over a period of time and gets progressively worse.
The most common cause of wrist fractures is going backward for a ball, falling, and landing on an extended arm to break the fall.
Avoiding Common Pickleball Injuries
Though there is always a risk of injury on the pickleball court, simple precautions can help lower your chances of getting hurt:
- Warm up and stretch before playing.
- Watch for obstacles on or around the court that could cause trips or falls.
- Avoid wet, slippery courts.
- Avoid backpedaling (moving backward) on the court.
- Talk with your partner to avoid confusion such as bumping into each other.
- Know your body and rest when you need to.
How Do You Treat and Recover from Pickleball Injuries?
Even when participants try to do all the right things to avoid injuries and enjoy a safe game of pickleball, the lunging, reaching, pivoting, and fast footwork that pickleball demands can lead to accidents. The good news is that you can treat most injuries at home and without medical intervention. The RICE protocol is a good place to start with strains and sprains. RICE stands for:
Though there is a misconception that you should apply heat to treat strains and ice to treat sprains, both strains and sprains require rest and ice along with compression and elevation in the first 24 to 72 hours after an injury. After 72 hours, you may apply heat.
Treatment for sprains and strains will vary depending on the severity of the injury. For mild sprains and strains, a doctor may recommend you take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) such as ibuprofen.
When at-home treatment methods do not seem to improve your condition, check with your doctor. They might recommend additional screening to gauge the severity of your injury.
Seek Professional Medical Care for More Serious Pickleball Injuries
Seeking the advice of a doctor is always best for more serious injuries, including:
- Head injuries.
- Eye injuries.
- Sprains and strains accompanied by a popping sound, bruising, and/or an inability to put weight on the injury.
Returning to the Pickleball Court After an Injury
In the case of pickleball overuse injuries and mild strains, participants can usually return to pickleball after a few weeks of rest. Severe strains or tears, associated with more pain, bruising, and swelling, take longer to heal. Many of these more severe injuries respond well to physical therapy.
Listening to your body and your doctor when recovering is important. When you feel like you are ready to return to playing, take it slow. For some wrist, ankle, and knee injuries, braces can provide extra support.
Experts at UPMC Sports Medicine care for athletes and active people of all ages and skill levels, including evaluating and treating acute and chronic pickleball injuries. To learn more or schedule an appointment, visit our website or call 1-855-937-7678.
About Sports Medicine
An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.