It’s hard to walk by the North Boulder Rec center without seeing people playing pickleball. In the middle of winter, the lights from NBRC allow for pickleball play to continue well beyond when I would reasonably be snuggled up inside. Clearly, this game is addictive. In fact, Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the US, with an estimated 5 million players, many of whom just started playing since the pandemic began.
Although Pickleball has a cadre of professional players, it’s considered a recreational sport. When people pick it up casually, they often don’t do any conditioning before playing. That can be a problem. I mean, would you even think about running a half marathon without training? NO. But 3 hours of pickleball? Sure, why not?
Why so many Pickleball Injuries? Playing Pickleball involves quick movements of one or two steps going forward, backward, or side to side. Those quick changes in direction can place significant demands on adductor muscles, hamstrings, Achilles tendons and plantar fascia. Older players may be more susceptible to injury because of age-related changes in collagen and decreased elasticity of connective tissue and muscles. Injury prevention should focus on helping the players’ soft tissues and joints meet the physical demands of pickleball.
What does injury prevention look like?
Balance: quick changes in direction while focusing on hitting a ball requires good balance, so challenging balance with a reach and twist can be great prep.
Hip strength and agility: being able to maintain good biomechanics while lunging takes practice. If hips are weak, adding resistance to the movement is a form of muscle re-education and strengthening at the same time.
Ankle & Foot – strength and power: Repeatedly pushing off or lunging requires not just strength, but power, or the ability to produce force quickly.
Flexibility: thoracic rotation and hip rotation. Good mobility in the rib cage and hips helps distribute forces evenly throughout the body. Good rib cage mobility decreases stress on the shoulder, and hip mobility decreases stress on the lower back and opposite shoulder. Tightness in one area means that another adjacent area has to move more to compensate.
As with any sport, starting off with a bang and ending with a whimper can happen without proper preparation. Better, if you are new to a sport, to have a PT make sure you are ready on game day.
We look at strength, flexibility, agility, balance and then develop an exercise program to address issues that show up. That way, you increase the fun factor and have an exercise plan focused on preventing injuries to keep you on the court.
But if you end up injured, no shaming here. Call to get an assessment and treatment so you are back on the courts ASAP.