The Most Common Pickleball Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Whether you just decided to join the pickleball craze or you’ve enjoyed the game for years, don’t let its unusual name mislead you. Pickleball is great fun, but it’s also a sport. Like every other sport, it comes with risks for injuries.

Here at STAR Ortho, Jacob Spencer, DO treats a lot of overuse injuries caused by racquet sports like pickleball, and though they’re not quite as common, wrist fractures seem to plague pickleball players.

While you can’t always prevent an accident, following these top tips will lower your odds of sustaining a pickleball injury.

For those who are curious about pickleball

Chances are you’re reading this because you’re a pickleball player and you want to prevent injuries.

But just in case you clicked on the link because you’re thinking — a sport called pickleball? — here’s a quick description.

Pickleball is a racquet sport that’s like tennis, but:

You play on a court like a badminton court …

With a modified tennis net …

Using paddles that are slightly larger than pingpong paddles …

Hitting a ball that’s similar to a Wiffle® Ball.

Like tennis, you can play single or doubles on courts that are indoors or outdoors.

These are the most common injuries, together with some prevention tips:

Broken wrist

Most broken wrists occur when you fall onto your outstretched arm, which is exactly how it happens in pickleball. It turns out that most falls in pickleball happen when you run backward to try and return a lob.

There are a few ways to prevent this type of fall. The first is to learn when it’s possible to run down a lob and when it’s best to let it go so you don’t backstep too quickly and risk falling.

Of course, if you’re in a tournament or you’re a competitive player, chances are you won’t want to simply let it go, so here’s another tip: If you’re playing doubles, yell “switch” and have your partner run for the lob.

It’s safer for your partner to run vertically to return the ball than it is for you to backpedal while watching the ball’s arc in the air.

Pickleball elbow (aka tennis elbow)

Just like in tennis, pickleball causes tennis elbow, an overuse injury that affects the extensor muscles in your forearm and their tendons The extensor muscles extend and turn your wrist, which is a frequent movement in racquet sports.

As you repeatedly use the same muscle to make the same movement, small tears and inflammation develop in the tendons that attach the muscle to your elbow. As a result, you feel pain on the outside of the elbow.

If you can already feel the pain in your elbow, it’s a good idea to take a rest from the game and have your injury evaluated. It’s essential to rest the tendon to give it time to heal — if you keep playing the game and making the same repetitive movements, the tears will worsen.

It may also help to wear a counterforce brace over your forearm. This special brace relieves your pain by resting the muscles and tendons.

The best way to prevent tennis elbow is to warm up and gently stretch your arm muscles before and after every game. Strengthening your arm muscles will also lower your risk of overuse injuries.

It’s important to be sure your pickleball form and technique are optimal. Improper posture and arm movement put excess stress on the muscles and tendons.

Pickleball shoulder (aka rotator cuff injuries)

The repetitive overhead motions used during racquet sports increase your risk of shoulder injuries. Your rotator cuff consists of the four muscles and their tendons that stabilize your shoulder joint.

These soft tissues are especially susceptible to tears and inflammation, which causes pain and when untreated, leads to arm weakness.

The most important thing to remember about a rotator cuff tear is that it will get larger over time without adequate rest and treatment. As much as you enjoy pickleball, you’ll need to avoid any activity that aggravates your shoulder until the soft tissues have time to heal.

Just like tennis elbow, the best way to prevent shoulder injuries is to warm up before starting a game and to follow a routine regimen of stretching and strengthening exercises that target your forearm muscles.

General pickleball tip

One final tip: Choose correct shoes. You don’t want to wear running shoes or any type of shoe with small traction pegs. They can catch and make you fall.

Wear shoes that support side-to-side action, have a smooth sole, and are made to wear on a court. Avoid wearing running shoes or any type of shoe with knobby treads because they increase your risk of falling or twisting your ankle.

If you develop shoulder, elbow, or wrist pain, schedule an appointment at STAR Ortho. Early treatment protects your well-being and gets you back in the game sooner.

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