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Common pickleball injuries: How to prevent them and when to seek care

As pickleball grows in popularity, we look into the common injuries associated with the sport and how to prevent and treat them.

July 24, 2023

Pickleball website The Dink claims that 66 new places to play pickleball open in the U.S. every month, and you don’t have to look far in Florida to find one. As the sport’s popularity grows, so too does the number of people who seek treatment for pickleball injuries.

Here’s a look at some of the most common pickleball injuries and tips to help you prevent and treat them.

Types of pickleball injuries

Pickleball injuries can either be acute or chronic. Treat these injuries with RICE: rest, ice (cold therapy), compression and elevation:

  • Acute (new) injuries accompanied by inflammation and swelling, such as strains, ligament sprains, shoulder rotator cuff injuries, fractures and bruises.
  • Overuse injuries, which are caused by repetitive movements and damage muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments over time. These include stress fractures, plantar fasciitis and tendinitis.

These injuries will respond better to heat therapy:

  • Chronic (ongoing) conditions that are not accompanied by swelling and inflammation. These can be aggravated by playing pickleball, especially arthritis but also including fibromyalgia and back or neck pain.
  • Muscle soreness caused by overexertion, such as from lifting heavy boxes or a strenuous pickleball workout.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers may also help ease your symptoms. If more than a day or two goes by and you’re still experiencing symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care physician or an orthopedic specialist.

Learn more about the full scope of orthopedic services we offer within the HCA Florida Healthcare network.

Pickleball elbow

So many people are being treated for tendinitis of the elbow from playing pickleball that doctors, who once referred to it as “tennis elbow,” are now calling it “pickleball elbow.” Anyone who plays a racket or paddle sport is susceptible to this overuse injury, which damages tendons in the elbow. Symptoms include inflammation and pain, which can be treated with RICE and OTC pain relievers.

You may be able to reduce your risk for pickleball elbow by investing in a high-quality, light racket. A good racket may help to absorb impact and a light one will help you avoid placing too much strain on your forearm muscles.

Tendon and ligament injuries

Pickleball is a low-impact sport, but it requires balance and the ability to pivot and change directions quickly. While pickleball players are at risk of straining a variety of muscle groups in both the upper and lower extremities, these two injuries are common because of pickleball’s fast-pivoting play style:

Medial collateral ligament (MCL) strains

Your MCL runs along the inside of your knee to stabilize your knee joint and protect it during side-to-side movements. Pickleball players are at increased risk for MCL injuries because of all the twisting, turning and pivoting movements the sport requires.

Exercises you can do at home or in the gym, such as walking heel-to-toe, standing on one foot and balancing on a half-domed ball can all help with balance and coordination.

In addition to balance exercises, strengthening the muscles around your knee will help give it more stability. Leg exercises such as squats, lunges and calf raises can help build strength. Treat this injury with RICE and see a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve in a day or two.

Achilles tendon injuries

Your Achilles tendon is a thick, powerful tendon that sits between your ankle and your calf and ties your calf muscle to your heel. Every time you use your calf muscle, you’re also using your Achilles tendon. So when you push off of your toes quickly or land from a jump, you’re at risk of injuring your Achilles.

Symptoms may include pain, swelling and bruising, which may benefit from the RICE protocol. Overuse of the Achilles can lead to chronic inflammation, so be sure to seek medical treatment if you suspect an Achilles injury.

To help avoid this injury (and others), be sure to warm up and stretch before hitting the court. The right footwear can also help keep your feet and ankles stable and absorb impact. Check with your local sporting goods store or online retailer for suggestions specifically for pickleball.

Broken bones from falls

Pickleball is played on a hard surface, so falling can potentially lead to shoulder, wrist, hip, knee or ankle injuries, including fractures. Mild injuries can be treated with RICE and OTC pain relievers at home, but if symptoms don’t improve or you suspect a broken bone, head to your local ER, urgent care or orthopedic specialist. Symptoms to watch for include significant swelling, bruising and limited range of motion.

Getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food and staying hydrated can also help keep you at your sharpest on the court.

Find the orthopedic care you need 

If you suspect you have an orthopedic injury, it’s important to find a trusted orthopedic specialist to help diagnose and treat the source of the pain you’re experiencing. Call (844) 671-4206 to get connected with an orthopedic doctor and find the care you need. 

July 24, 2023

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