Pickleball’s meteoric rise in recent years prompts some important questions: is the sport safe? More importantly, what can players do to promote safety and maximize health benefits?
Those who have never experienced a pickleball injury may scoff at these questions, but consider recent research from the Journal of Emergency Medicine which reports nearly 20,000 injuries between 2001 and 2017.
Since the conclusion of that study, participation in pickleball has skyrocketed, meaning the rate of injury has also likely increased over the last couple of years.
But this doesn’t have to be an inevitability. Smart players can curb the likelihood of getting hurt with some simple preparation.
“Pickleball Elbow” and How to Avoid It
As with any racquet sport, there’s always the possibility for something called pickleball elbow, a commonly-reported issue.
“Based on the rotation aspect of racquet sports, there is an increased opportunity to sustain overuse injuries such as tendinitis of the shoulder, knee, and achilles, as well as tennis elbow,” says John Gallucci Jr., MS, ATC, PT, DPT, and CEO at JAG-ONE Physical Therapy.
Also known as “tennis elbow,” pickleball elbow is an overuse injury known in the medical field as lateral epicondylitis.
Gallucci explains this common affliction is caused by maneuvering the same repetitive wrist and arm motions, ultimately straining muscles and causing pain and inflammation.
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The most common symptoms of lateral epicondylitis include burning pain in the outer elbow, tension or weakness in the forearm, and elbow stiffness or achiness.
As is the case with other overuse injuries, the best way to prevent pickleball elbow is to properly prepare your body for the rigors of the sport.
Warm-ups and stretches ensure you have proper form and biomechanics. Some light weight lifting with free weights keeps your limbs flexible and strong.
“If this injury is sustained, proper treatment includes rest, ice to reduce inflammation, and physical therapy,” Gallucci says.
“Physical therapists are well versed in treating lateral epicondylitis and will create a customized treatment plan to heal the affected areas, build muscle strength, and avoid further injury.”
Find more resources on pickleball elbow treatment here.
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Pickleball Safety Tips
Here are a few quick tips for keeping your body in game-ready condition before, during, and after your next pickleball session:
- Consider protective eyewear: Those who wear eyeglasses already often invest in pair of prescription protective eyewear (if not, they should!). But those that don't wear glasses often don't wear anything to protect their eyes. Even a pair of shades is better than nothing; but if you play pickleball often, it is wise to invest in a pair of impact-resistant sports glasses.
- Don't skip warm-ups: “As with any rotational racquet sport, it is important to warm up for 5-10 minutes and get the body sweating before truly participating,” Gallucci says. This means any combination of a light jog, stretches, or even a few jumping jacks.
- Pay attention to your body: If you feel dehydration or fatigue set in, take a break. Even a 2-minute rest and rehydration period can help re-energize and prevent missteps during play.
- Work on mobility: While pickleball is supposed to be the sport that’s “easy on the joints,” competitive play often necessitates quick pivots and turns. If your mobility is less accessible and you feel rigid when you stretch, consider knee or ankle compression sleeves to stabilize key joints.
Pickleball Health Benefits
If this article made you just a little less excited to play your next game, we want to offer our assurance: by and large, pickleball is safe. There are far more dangerous sports out there.
Pickleball isn’t just popular because of its low learning curve; it’s famously easier on players’ bodies than other related sports.
For example, pickleball is a great option for aerobic activity that can yield great benefits for overall fitness and heart health.
“The body will benefit based on the functionality and biomechanics utilized for the sport,” Gallucci says.
Importantly, though, the social nature of the game poses benefits to players’ mental health.
“Pickleball provides a great socialization outlet,” Gallucci says.
“Instead of going to the gym for a session by yourself, pickleball offers an outlet to exercise while socializing with others and creating a great network!”