Pickleball is a racquet sport played indoors or outdoors that combines tennis, badminton and table tennis principles. It's played on a badminton-sized court using a net similar to a tennis net. As far as equipment goes, the paddles are slightly smaller than tennis racquets and the balls resemble whiffle balls. This sport provides a way to stay fit in a fun way, but as with any physical activity, injuries can occur.
Common Pickleball Injuries
While pickleball is an engaging sport, it does have the possibility of injuries and accidents, including general risks such as a fall, bump or bruise. However, there are common injuries that are more likely to affect pickleball players specifically. Many common pickleball injuries are categorized as overuse injuries, meaning they develop gradually over time due to repeated movements.
1. Shoulder Strain
A common pickleball injury is general shoulder pain, strain or injury to the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is an essential structure of the shoulder, supporting the arm at the shoulder joint. While damage to the rotator cuff is possible, one of the most common injuries for pickleball players is a general strain on the shoulder. Overextension of the shoulder can damage the muscles over time and cause pain, inflammation and even reduce your shoulder's full range of motion.
2. Pickleball Elbow
"Pickleball elbow" is a similar injury to tennis elbow that causes pain when the elbow is overused. Repeated motions like swinging a pickleball paddle can continue to put stress on the elbow over time. If you play pickleball with improper form or training, you're at a higher risk of a potential injury, as poor form can lead to small tears in the elbow's tendons. Pickleball elbow can cause soreness near and around the elbow and aching, stiffness and pain that worsens with movement.
3. Heel Bruising
Heel bruising is another common pickleball injury that can develop slowly over time. If the fat pad that surrounds the heel experiences irritation or damage due to repetitive contact and movements, you may develop internal bruising. The heel bone itself may also experience bruising depending on the severity of the injury. Bruising on or inside the heel area and pain that worsens as you apply pressure to the heel is common with this injury.
4. Achilles Tendonitis
Achilles tendonitis is another overuse injury that can develop from high-impact exercise or repeated stress on the lower leg. In more severe cases, the Achilles tendon may experience multiple tears. There are two forms of Achilles tendonitis, including non-insertional and insertional. Non-insertional Achilles tendonitis affects the middle of the tendon. On the other hand, insertional Achilles tendonitis affects the lower portion of the tendon. Achilles tendonitis symptoms include pain in the calf, swelling of the tendon area and lower leg and heel stiffness.
How to Avoid Pickleball Injuries
To lower your risk of injury, you'll want to use proper exercise equipment and form when playing. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America and it continues to rise in popularity. With many new players looking to take up the sport, it's important to consider high-quality sports equipment and proper form to safely and comfortably enjoy pickleball.
1. Exercise Regularly
In addition to pickleball, you should ensure you exercise regularly and stimulate all the muscles in your body. Routine exercise and a proper diet can improve your health, lower your risk of a potential injury and allow you to enjoy pickleball games safely. Strengthening exercises, especially for the legs, are essential for good health and putting your best foot forward during your next pickleball match.
2. Hydrate Properly
Hydration is an essential aspect of daily life on and off of the court. Without proper hydration, your body can't effectively regulate heat. In addition to hydrating while playing pickleball, you'll also want to ensure you're drinking enough water before and after your matches. The amount of water each person needs a day varies and depends on whether you plan to exercise that day. In general, you should aim to drink four to six glasses of water per day.
3. Protect Your Eyes
Protective eyewear can prevent potential injuries if you're hit with a ball or paddle in the face. While getting hit with a ball may not hurt very much on the arm or abdomen, it can cause serious damage to the eyes. Potential eye injuries include cuts, bruises, swelling or even interocular bleeding and retinal detachment. Eye injuries can be very severe and result in possible vision loss. Protecting your eyes during pickleball can help to prevent these injuries.
4. Stretch Beforehand
As with any exercise, a proper warmup is necessary to prevent muscle strains and lower your overall risk of injury. Stretching beforehand can ensure you have a full range of motion and are ready to participate in a fun, safe game of pickleball. A simple walk is a great way to start your warmup and get the blood flowing throughout your body. After a walk, quick arm and leg stretches can help reduce muscle tension and rigidity.
While it's essential to stretch all of your muscles, you want to make sure you're giving the muscles you'll use the most the deepest stretch you can. Warmup stretches to prevent injury are an excellent way to get your body ready to play pickleball. Following a game of pickleball, a cooldown can help relax tired muscles and prepare your body to rest.
5. Wear Supportive Shoes
A supportive shoe can help lower your risk for potential foot, ankle and leg injuries, including sprains, strains and meniscal tears. Wearing shoes that fit correctly and offer support will keep your body safe from harm. When selecting a shoe, it's always best to choose footwear designed for the sport you play. If you play pickleball regularly, you may want to invest in a pair of court shoes made specifically for tennis or pickleball players.
What to Do if You Experience a Pickleball Injury
If you experience an injury while playing pickleball, you'll want to make sure you get proper treatment for the injury. It's best to visit your doctor for any sports-related injury to check that you follow an appropriate treatment plan. In the event of an emergency, you should seek immediate medical assistance. For non-emergency injuries, you'll want to follow these three simple steps.
1. Gauge the Severity of Your Injury
Gauging the severity of your injury can help you understand if you may feel better with rest or if you should see a doctor. Additionally, the severity of your injury will help you choose if you should schedule a routine appointment or seek out immediate medical assistance. While minor bruises or strains can heal on their own with rest, it's always best to get a medical professional's opinion before self-diagnosing. A doctor's visit can help you determine the proper treatment to promote healing.
2. Schedule an Orthopedic Appointment for Non-Emergency Injuries
If an injury doesn't require emergency attention, you can schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or an orthopedic specialist. A medical professional can determine the extent of your injury and create an effective treatment plan for you to follow. Your physician may also offer recommendations on how to safely return to your sport after your injury has healed.
3. Follow Your Treatment
To ensure your injury fully heals, you'll want to follow all of your doctor's recommendations. Allowing yourself time to rest and recover is essential when healing from any sports-related injury. In some cases, your physician may recommend physical therapy to improve the range of motion of the injured area. Your physician or physical therapist will help you determine when you can begin safely playing pickleball again.
Contact Dr. Mufaddal Gombera for Pickleball Injuries
Mufaddal Gombera, MD, is a leading orthopedic surgeon in Houston specializing in sports medicine and shoulder, elbow, knee and hip injuries. Dr. Gombera is a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon providing expert care and advanced treatments for all of his patients. Using minimally invasive techniques, Dr. Gombera is dedicated to providing patients with the highest level of care while minimizing downtime.
If you suffer a knee, hip, shoulder or elbow injury while playing pickleball, contact Dr. Mufaddal Gombera today or call (713) 794-3457.