With the rise in the popularity of any sport, many new players jump in enthusiastically. They get better and start to play more and more.
But then something slows them down. A nagging ache here. A minor injury there. Soon, their enthusiasm starts to wane. Or they might give up the game all together.
We’ve seen this pattern play out with pickleball. Right now, many new players are jumping in quickly and with great enthusiasm, but then some all-too-common injuries slow them down.
R&R Ambassador Catalin Costea has seen many pickleball injuries during his years of coaching. Most fall into a few common categories and almost all can be avoided with a simple changes to your game and gear.
Common Pickleball Injury: Ankle strains
With any new sport it’s hard to know which equipment is vital to start and which is nice to have. Obviously, you couldn’t start playing pickleball without a paddle, but have your given consideration to your footwear? Beginners often start with shoes they already own – usually a pair of running shoes or even (gasp!) sandals or flip-flops. And this is where the problems begin.
Improper footwear leads to almost all court injuries.
Running shoes are reinforced at the front of the shoe, near the toes. This helps push yourself forward during your walk or run. However, in pickleball, you are mainly moving laterally. So rather than needing reinforcement at the front of the shoe, you need reinforcement at the sides. This prevents any sliding from quick, side-to-side movements.
Also, the uppers on most running shoes are made with a flexible fabric, which allows for breathability. However, this flexibility also gives the shoe a tendency to roll. And where the foot goes, the ankle follows.
Remedy: Proper Court Shoes
To prevent ankle sprains, your #1 piece of equipment should be a proper, recently-acquired pair of court shoes. Proper court shoes will provide excellent lateral support, a rigid top and side and good surface grip.
If you have an old pair of court shoes, check the sole to ensure the grip is not worn down. If the grip is gone, it's time to invest in a new pair.
Common Injury: Tennis (Pickleball?) Elbow
This common tennis injury is now showing up at pickleball courts and is caused by improper equipment, poor grip size and the wrong movements.
For example, players wanting a more solid grip have been requesting oversized grips for their paddles. However, this does just the opposite of providing stability. An oversized grip tenses the muscles up the entire arm and puts too much torque on your elbow. Over the course of many games, you could develop tennis elbow seemingly out of the blue and without realizing the factors that led you there.
Remedy: Loosen Your Grip
On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the hardest you can squeeze the grip and 1 holding it as loosely as you can), you should hold the paddle at level 3. Or no more than 4. So, quite loose and relaxed. The stability should start in your upper arm, near the shoulder, rather than at your grip or wrist.
If you keep your grip loose, your elbows and upper arm will do the work for you.
Common Pickleball Injury: Back Pain
If you've been playing pickleball for a while, the odds are high that you've experienced some type of back pain. This is caused by a few different factors, but the main factor is not using your knees properly. As the ball drops low, players are often bending at the waist to reach it. This will cause the muscles in your back to get tense and overworked.
Remedy: Squat, Don’t Bend
Because the ball doesn’t bounce up to you, you need to go down to the ball. So squat to the ball instead of bending. Hold a straight back while you bend your knees down into a squat.
Remedy: Proper Warm-up and Cool Down
A proper warm-up should include more than hitting the ball softly over the net for a couple of minutes. Dynamic stretching is the best pre-game warm-up. Lunges with a twist, windmills (touching toes while stretching lower back), and squats for around 10 min before starting to play will set you up for success in the long run.
Once you're done playing, the lactic acid built up while playing will cause you to become stiff and sore post-game. Static stretching works best for a proper cool down. A 20 min yoga/stretching video once you get home could save you a host of long-term back issues.
Remedy: Strengthen Your Core
To really ensure your back is powerful, core strengthening exercises will work wonders. Try to fit in 200 squats a day. Every time you get up from your desk chair, throw in 10 squats before you sit down.
With proper footwear, the right equipment and a consistent warm up/cool down routine, you'll avoid the most common pickleball injuries and enjoy a full summer of play.