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Pickleball: Having fun and avoiding injury

pickleball paddle and ball

At Sports Health Northwest in Portland, Oregon, we treat all different types of injuries involving the upper and the lower limbs. We commonly see injuries arising from a variety of sports. One of the most common sources of injuries that we see involves the sport of pickleball. Pickleball has really grown in popularity over the past 5 years.  According to the New York Times, it grew 40% from 2019 to 2021 and nearly 5 million people now play the sport. Its played by individuals of all ages, and it's rapidly growing in popularity in individuals under 55.  Its easy to see why as it’s a fun sport, easy to learn, provides a good workout, and once you start, its hard to stop playing.  At universities, it’s common to see lines of students waiting to play pickleball, and the same at senior centers.

At my sports injury clinic we see injuries related to pickleball that affect men and women, young, and old. Pickleball injuries tend to follow patterns based on age.  In younger adults, I tend to see knee problems like jumpers knee or runners knee.  In aging adults in their 40s and 50s, muscle strains and tendon injuries like calf strains and hamstring strains from jumping and sprinting/stopping.  While in older adults over 55, I tend to see fall related injuries of the hands and wrists.  These can occur from falling while back peddling or when running towards the net as the sport involves lot of forward and backwards movement as well as side to side movement.

Also, because pickleball involves a strong grip on the paddle, individuals of all ages can be prone to injuries of the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder from swinging the paddle for serves or returns.  Though no one likes to hear this, as individuals age and muscles become weaker or lose their flexibility, and yet the mind is still thinking like a young adult with the competitive juices flowing, individuals can be at greater risk for muscle strains or other joint injuries affecting their lower limb joint, such as the knees and the hips where there might be arthritis present from years of use.

Pickleball is a growing and incredibly fun sport and something that can be played by individuals of all ages and all athletic abilities, and great fun for families, friends, and co-workers.  For those playing pickleball, we want to help you avoid injury and recover quickly from injuries so you can get back to playing pickleball.  As a sports injury specialist, we know injuries are painful and can sideline you for weeks.  At Sports Health Northwest, we treat individuals of all ages, and are able to treat all types of injuries that can arise from playing pickleball.

At Sports Health Northwest, our goal is to rapidly identify the injury, effectively treat the injury, and work to get you back on the pickleball courts as quickly and safely as possible.  An important part of recovering from an injury is trying to identify what pre-existing conditions may have contributed to the injury. This is why it is important for your sports injury doctor to pay attention to not just the injury, but other joints and muscles, and how they may have played a role in the injury. For example, as we age, our balance is diminished. This decreased balance can increase the risk of injury, and yet there are evidence proven exercises that can help improve balance and reduce the risk of falls. This is important for aging pickleball players to have an awareness of, and perform regular balance exercises in addition to strengthening and stretching exercises. 

I commonly tell my patients that it is important to get in shape in order to play sports more safely and effectively. Playing sports to get into shape can also increase the risk of injury. When it comes to pickleball, it’s a fun sport that can be played at many levels of intensity.  Before ramping up your level of intensity and volume, in order to reduce injury, spend adequate time working on your fitness as it relates to pickleball specifically in order to avoid injury. 


Photo by Aleksander Saks on Unsplash

Dr Westerdahl David Westerdahl MD FAAFP RMSK Sports Medicine Physician and owner Sports Health Northwest, Inc.

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