Pickleball, a cross between, tennis, badminton and table tennis, has been rapidly gaining popularity. With the increased number of people participating in the sport and increased number of tournaments held, comes a rise in injuries. Although it is a non contact sport, injuries can occur in a variety of anatomical locations around the body. Some of the most common injuries include ankle sprain, achilles tendon strain, hamstring strain, groin strain, and shoulder strain. To better understand the injuries that occur it is important to know the difference between the terms “strain” and “sprain”. A ligament is a structure in the body that attaches bone to bone and when it is overstretched the term “sprain” is used. A tendon is a structure in the body that attaches muscle to bone and when it is injured the term “strain” is used.
Ankle Sprain: Ankle sprain, referring to overstretching the ligaments of your ankle is a common injury seen in pickleball. Typically this occurs during gameplay when a player steps on the ball or on another players foot. Often times the ligaments injured are those that are located on the lateral side of the ankle, with the most common being the anterior talofibular ligament. When an ankle sprain occurs there does not always have to be swelling to signify a sprain, it can be seen with or without swelling.
Achilles Tendon Strain: The muscles that join to form the Achilles tendon are the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, found on the back of the calf. This tendon then attaches distally to the heel bone (calcaneus). Typically seen in the 40 year and older population among pickleball players, achilles tendon strain can occur during sudden stop and go motions or when rapidly changing direction. If a popping noise or snapping sound is heard during one of these motions, accompanied by the inability to walk after the sound then Achilles ruptureis likely.
Hamstring & Groin Strain: Hamstrings, the muscles that are on the back of the thigh, are often injured due to overextension such as when reaching to return the ball. The Groin, consisting of the muscles on the inner part of the thigh, are often strained in pickleball due to the fast movements cutting from side to side that are often needed to return the ball.
Shoulder strain: Another common injury that occurs with pickleball is strain of the muscles that make up the rotator cuff of the shoulder (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis). This often occurs due to overuse of the shoulder with a lot of over the head motions which can often lead to over stretching the rotator cuff muscles.
Warm-up: According to the United States of America Pickleball Association (USAPA), a good warm up should last for at least 5 minutes and can consist of fast walking, riding a bike or going for a jog. Warming up the muscles will help to protect against the possibility of sustaining an injury such as the ones listed above. In addition, this warm-up will better prepare the player for the dynamic stretching that should also be done prior to playing pickleball.
Stretching: stretching will increase flexibility and be an additional protecting factor for injuries during games. It is good to start at the ankles and work up the body to the head focusing on each of the muscle groups related to the injuries that are listed above including ankle, hamstrings, groin, calf muscles, and shoulder. When stretching, it is important to hold each stretch for 30 seconds, relax, and then repeat 3-5 times for each muscle group. Videos created by USAPA explaining good stretches to do can be found in both of the links below.
By Ty Pfau and Alee Vladyka