Pickleball Mania: How To Stay Injury-Free

Pickleball has quickly become one of the most popular sporting activities in the U.S., with more than 36.5 million American players – an increase of 158% over the last three years, according to Pickleheads.

That makes pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America for players of all ages, from preteens to the most senior seniors.

With that growth comes some growing pains – and we mean literal pains. A study by UBS estimates that “pickleball could contribute more than $377 million in healthcare costs this year, with a projected 67,000 emergency room visits, 366,000 outpatient visits, and 9,000 surgeries directly linked to pickleball-related injuries.”

Those are some big numbers.

Assuming you don’t want to be a statistic, what can you do to lessen your risk of pickleball-related injuries?

Let’s look at some simple risk-reducing steps you can take.

Warmup

Playing pickleball without warming up makes you more likely to experience common pickleball injuries like:

  • Shoulder/elbow strains
  • Ankle sprains
  • Tendonitis
  • Falls

Warmups help reduce the possibility of these injuries. Not only that, but they’ll prepare your muscles and joints for the demands of the game, and ultimately improve your performance.

A proper warmup should include an active warmup with some light cardiovascular activities. This will cause your blood vessels to dilate, speeding the flow of oxygen to working muscles and preparing them for activity.

The active warmup should be followed by dynamic stretches that mimic some frequently used motions in playing the game. Additionally, players should incorporate some static stretches before and after playing, focusing on muscles commonly used in pickleball.

Cardiovascular Warmup

A brief active cardiovascular warmup will ensure your heart rate is elevated and your body is prepared for the demands of the game. Some options include:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Light jogging
  • Skipping rope
  • Side shuffles

You don’t need to do 10 minutes of jumping-jacks to prepare for your pickleball game. Just do enough that you feel a slight exertion and an elevated heart rate.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is movement-based stretching, which differs from traditional static stretching because you’re not holding a stretch position. Instead, you’re stretching while you’re moving.

Dynamic stretching can produce some great benefits, including:

  • Improved flexibility and mobility
  • Enhanced muscle activation
  • Increased blood flow to working muscles
  • Reduced injury risk
  • Better overall performance

Dynamic stretches/activities for pickleballers include:

  • Leg Swings: To improve hip mobility and prepare your lower body for lateral movements, perform leg swings by holding onto a support and swinging your leg forward and backward. Complete 10-15 swings for each leg.
  • Arm Circles: Rotate your arms in a circular motion, gradually increasing the size of the circles. Perform 10-15 circles in each direction for both arms.
  • High Knees: March in place or walk and march across the floor, lifting your knees as high as possible while maintaining a brisk pace. Perform this exercise for 30-45 seconds.
  • Butt Kicks:  Walk or jog while kicking your heels towards your glutes. Perform this exercise for 30-45 seconds. This will boost your hamstring flexibility and activate your quads.
  • Lunges with Rotation: Strengthen your lower body and improve your core stability. Step forward into a lunge and rotate your torso towards the forward leg. Perform eight to 10 lunges on each side.
  • Side Lunges: Improve your hip mobility and the flexibility of your legs. Lunge to one side and bend your knee while also feeling a stretch to the inner leg. Repeat to the other side. Perform eight to 10 lunges on each side.

Static Stretching

Static stretches can also help prevent injury. The term “static flexibility” refers to an individual’s absolute range of motion that can be achieved without movement – in other words, how far we can reach, bend, or turn and then hold that position.

Static stretches (held 20-30 seconds) can include:

  • Quadriceps: Stand tall holding onto or leaning on an object to keep your balance. Grasp the top of your ankle or forefoot behind you and pull your ankle toward your buttocks. Repeat with the opposite leg.
  • Hamstrings: Stand with your left leg one step in front of your right foot, bend your right knee and sit your weight on it. Point the toes of your front foot up to the sky. Lean forward, keeping your back straight, and hold when you feel a comfortable stretch behind the back of your thigh. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Calves: Stand tall with one leg in front of the other, hands flat and at shoulder height against a wall. Ease your back leg further away from the wall, keeping it straight. Press the heel firmly into the floor. Keep your hips facing the wall with your rear leg and spine in a straight line. You’ll feel the stretch in the calf of the rear leg. Hold the stretch and repeat with the other leg.
  • Shoulders: Place your right arm parallel with the ground across the front of your chest. Bend the left arm up and use the left forearm to ease the right arm closer to your chest. You will feel the stretch in the back of the shoulder. Repeat with the other arm.
  • Forearms: Place your right arm straight out in front of you with your elbow fully straight. Grasp your right wrist with your left hand and stretch your hand down towards the floor. You’ll feel a stretch in your forearm. Repeat with the other arm.

Helpful Hints

Helpful hints to stay healthy while enjoying this very popular sport:

  • Wear good supportive shoes appropriate for the surface you are playing on.
  • Stay hydrated – drinking water is one of the best ways to help support your body while exercising.
  • Do a warmup like the one outlined above before playing to prepare your body for the demands of the game.
  • Listen to your body and don’t overdo it. Don’t ignore pain.
  • Seek help from a professional if you’re struggling with discomfort or pain. Don’t let it turn into a chronic issue.

Looking for more ways to play pickleball pain-free? Contact our physical therapy department or our colleagues at the Wisconsin Performance Institute. Together we’ll help you move better and more efficiently without pain.

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