Pickleball has become such a popular sport over the past 10 years that it is difficult find someone who hasn’t tried it. In 2020, there were an estimated four million active players in the U.S. – that’s a 21 percent increase from the year before. 

This new fad is on fire, as young and old are having fun and enjoying the health benefits from regular play. It’s such a wonderfully social sport and the exercise aspect adds health at any age. That is why many aging tennis players, whose bodies can no longer handle the physical stress anymore, are turning to Pickleball and finding that it is just as competitive – and can be a lot more fun.

However, the social enjoyment comes with as much risk as any other sport. As a bystander, you wonder how older people can play this game without getting hurt. For one, the player is in a forward bent position for most of the game. Then, they are required to move in four possible directions while maintaining their balance. As each game is played to a score of eleven and the win must be by two, stamina can be challenged. And clients tell me that each day they play, they are gone for four hours and play a minimum of three days a week.

Injuries are part of any sport, but some can certainly be prevented by knowing what your body can and can’t do. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System estimates there are 19,000 pickleball injuries per year nationwide, and 91 percent of those are in players over 50 years old. Men and women were about equal in the number of injuries with 29 percent coming from strains and sprains while another 28 percent coming from fractures. Ankle, back and elbow issues are the most common. 

I think the majority of these injuries are due to the fact that there was no previous sport being played to prepare their bodies for the strenuous effort they must exert in pickleball. Many came from playing golf or double’s tennis. There is so much going on in pickleball, such as the numerous directional changes, reaction time, reaching and bending forward and the eye-hand coordination, that unless you condition and prepare your body, injury is certainly likely. 

Here are some preventative tips to reduce your risk of injury from pickleball:

  1. Warm up correctly. Give yourself 15 minutes of movement prep stretching to include side stepping, high knees, walking leg kicks, and general stretching after your body has warmed up.
  2. Hydrate before, during and after play. Once the body is dehydrated, it will take all day to catch up.
  3. Wear quality shoes that provide good arch support, as well as support around the big bones on the sides of your ankles.
  4. Get plenty of sleep so that you gain full mental and physical repair from the day before.
  5. Seek out a certified personal trainer who understands both training for sport and rehabilitation.

Have fun out there, but be safe. Preparation is key to keeping you on the court and playing for many years to come!

Michael Butler is co-owner of Kinetix Health and Performance Center in Palm Desert and welcomes questions from readers. He can be reached at (760) 200.1719 or [email protected]. Butler has published three books and his latest, Get Moving is available through Kinetix or on www.amazon.com.

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