How to prevent pesky pickleball injuries

By The Health News Team | June 7, 2023
Person holding a pickleball on top of a pickleball paddle

In recent years, the game of pickleball has exploded on courts across the country. For the third year in a row, pickleball was announced as the fastest-growing sport in America, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Not only is it a fun sport, but it boasts many health benefits mental and physical too.

However, according to a recent American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) study, injuries in pickleball players have drastically increased in the last 20 years, with players over the age of 60 at greatest risk. Researchers found there were 90 times more fractures, especially in women over age 65. And older men were nearly two-and-a-half times more likely than women to be admitted to the hospital due to a pickleball-related fracture.

Jason Zartman, a physician assistant at the Sharp Grossmont Care Clinic, acknowledges the increase in injuries, which is likely due to the increased popularity of the game. But playing pickleball, he points out, can be a great way to get and stay healthy as you age. With preparation and a bit of caution, pickleball injury prevention is possible.

Here, Zartman offers a few helpful tips to keep in mind when picking up a paddle:

1

Stretch and warm up before starting the game.

Stretching helps to prevent injury and can aid in recovery. So it’s important not to skip this step.

“It only takes a few moments, and the benefits can be lasting,” says Zartman. “Even simple stretches like lunges, side steps and arm circles can help your body be primed for pickleball.”

Guided stretching and warmup routines can be found online and can be modified to fit your needs. Next time you’re on the court, encourage your fellow pickleball players to participate in a light warmup to ensure you’re all ready to hit the ground running when the game begins.

2

Wear proper shoes.

Shoes can be a stylish addition to your outfit, but when it comes to physical activity, choosing the right footwear is key.

“Wearing supportive, well-fitted shoes helps not only reduce your risk of injury — such as sprained ankles, stress fractures or shin splints — but also keeps your feet healthy and able to engage in the activity you love,” Zartman says.

When shopping for shoes, consider being fitted by an expert at your local sports store. This can ensure the shoes fit correctly and provide you with the support and comfort you need.

3

Lather on the sunscreen and choose protective clothing.

It may be tempting to skip the SPF on cool, cloudy days, but it’s important to wear sunscreen even when the sun’s rays don’t seem to be strong. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, apply an ounce (about two tablespoons) of sunscreen to the exposed areas of the face and body. If you opt to use a spray sunscreen, apply until an even sheen appears on the skin.

“Keep in mind that sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours, or more frequently if you're sweating.” Zartman says. “Use SPF 30 or higher with ‘broad spectrum’ on the label. This will help protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.”

4

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

It may be easy to forget this one, but drinking enough water throughout the entirety of your play is key to giving your body the fuel it needs.

“As you sweat, your body works hard to remove heat,” says Zartman. “With that, you’ll also lose body fluid. Drinking water is key to replacing the fluids you lose when you sweat and avoiding some serious complications from dehydration.”

It’s important to remember that hydration before, during and after physical activity is needed. According to the American Council on Exercise, you should aim to drink 17 to 20 ounces of fluid 2 to 3 hours before your workout, and another 8 ounces 20 to 30 minutes before exercising. During exercise, drink 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes. After your workout is done, drink about 8 ounces within 30 minutes following the exercise.

5

Give your body the rest it needs.

As with any physical activity, your body needs time to rest and recover. It may surprise you to learn that exercise, while extremely beneficial for the body and mind, can also have downsides if done in excess.

“Exercise is essentially causing stress on your muscles,” Zartman says. “A day of rest allows your body to repair tissues that were damaged from exercise. Aim for a rest day every 7 to 10 days or as you need it.”

A rest day doesn’t necessarily mean you must remain sedentary. If you enjoy light activity, such as walking or yoga, engage in those activities in between days of more strenuous exercise, such as when you play pickleball.

As always, talk with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine or taking up a new sport. Once given the greenlight, you can find more information and places near you to play by visiting the USA Pickleball website.

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