All About Pickleball: Injury Prevention Tips

Shoulder and Elbow

By Seth R. Miller, MD, Shoulder Surgeon at ONS

Although it was invented in 1965, pickleball has become one of the fastest growing sports in the nation. Games are played as singles or doubles on a badminton-sized court with a perforated plastic ball using paddles to hit the ball over a net.

I started playing pickleball about two years ago after playing tennis all my life. It’s a fun social game that has caught on in large part due to its less strenuous nature than other racket sports because it’s played on a smaller court.

As with any form of exercise, there are both physical benefits as well as injury risks to playing pickleball. The risks for injury can include strains to the shoulder, back, knees, elbows and wrists as well as ankle sprains.

Severe shoulder injuries are less common in pickleball than other racket sports because serving is done underhanded. Since players hold their rackets in a lower position, there is generally less strain on the shoulder than other racket sports.

While pickleball tends to be a highly social sport, it’s still possible to push yourself too hard without realizing it. As with many sports and especially when taking up a new sport, it is always best to take the time to warm up and stretch before play. You should also incorporate strengthening and conditioning exercises in your routine, utilize sport-appropriate footwear and be sure to stay hydrated.

I encourage a preventative maintenance plan for shoulder health to all my patients which includes a regimen of stretching and warming up. Further, a rotator cuff strengthening program is very useful and can incorporate the use of products such as Therabands which don’t require weights. This is all the more imperative if you are going to pick up a new sport.

Maintaining rotator cuff strength and overall shoulder flexibility is the best way someone can avoid injury to their shoulder joints.

Of course, if you haven’t been exercising at all and are thinking about picking up pickleball, it’s a good idea to talk to your primary care physician to make sure there are no medical issues.

With the sport growing in popularity, I have seen an uptick in patients coming to me with pickleball injuries. Most are in the older population, where minor overuse injuries could potentially cause larger issues.

The majority of injuries from pickleball can be treated conservatively with physical therapy and rest. If you see a specialist early on, many overuse injuries can heal quickly with the appropriate non-surgical treatment. Fractures or other trauma injuries need to be treated immediately to help reduce any long-term damage. I recommend seeing an orthopedic surgeon with experience in sports medicine to accurately diagnose and treat injuries.

About Dr. Seth Miller

Dr. Miller is a shoulder surgeon at Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS), specializing in arthroscopic shoulder surgery and shoulder replacement. To schedule an appointment, please call (203) 869-1145 or click schedule appointment today.