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Prevent pickleball injuries and be prepared to have fun

Published in For the Health of It, Exercise Author: Tracey B. Thompson, MD

Pickleball is a sport combining elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. It is played on a badminton-sized court with a wiffle-like ball and paddles made of wood or composite slightly larger than those used to play table tennis. It’s a great game because it can be played and enjoyed by players of all ages and abilities. It’s a popular game among seniors because it’s great exercise and maintains the competitive elements of tennis or racquetball, while not being as physically demanding on the body.

Currently, pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in America. Some St. Cloud area sports stores have started selling pickleball paddles, balls and other game equipment. Locally, players have been playing indoors for years at Whitney Recreation Center. And last year, the City of St. Cloud — in partnership with Northern Paddles Pickleball Club — opened several outdoor pickleball courts at Calvary Hill Park. See a list of all places to play pickleball in Minnesota.

Personally, I’ve played pickleball for nearly 10 years now. I fell in love with both the competitive and the social nature of the sport and have become active at the national level with the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). Initially, I was one of Minnesota’s first USAPA Ambassadors and, more recently, I have worked on national referee standards. Next week (May 19-22), I’ll be playing pickleball in the Minnesota Senior Games when they are played at the Whitney Recreation Center.

But don’t be misled by the game with the funny name. Some players can be very competitive and — like all sports — injuries can occur. Here are some common injuries I have observed and some tips for avoiding them:

  1. Wear good shoes. Pickleball involves long rallies and lots of changing direction, so it can place stress on your ankles and feet. Wearing cross-training, tennis or basketball shoes is a good idea because they are designed for the side-to-side movement of the game. I also prefer shoes that have a gummy or sticky bottom to assist with all the sudden starts and stops.
  2. Brace yourself. Tennis elbow (or pickleball elbow, as I prefer to call it) is no joke. When I suffered the injury a few years ago, I had to completely stop playing for three months to allow my arm to heal. It also made using my arm for everyday life more difficult. The injury occurs when the tendons in your arm get overworked and inflamed. Wearing a brace can take the pressure off your tendons and help prevent this injury. Those who have suffered previous ankle or knee injuries should consider wearing braces to further protect their joints too.
  3. It’s OK to turn your back on your opponent. One of the more common injuries I’ve seen, especially in less experienced players, involves players back-pedaling to get a lob and losing their footing. To prevent falling backwards, players should always turn around to chase a lob shot.
  4. Be easy on the eyes. Even though pickleball is played with a wiffle-like ball, the ball can be hit very hard. Players can suffer eye injuries if the ball is smashed or deflected and it catches them in the wrong place. In my opinion, not enough pickleball players wear eye protection — especially since preventing eye injuries is so easy. A pair of hunting glasses or racquetball goggles is inexpensive and can do tons to protect you from a very serious (and painful) eye injury.

With a little planning, you can do a lot to prevent injuries while playing pickleball. If someone invites you out for a game, plan on having a great time. For more information on how you can play pickleball around town, check out the St. Cloud Area Pickleball webpage