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Pickleball: Increase Popularity Brings Rise in Injuries

Pickleball is a recreational sport that is gaining in popularity and has become one of the fastest growing sports in America. The sport is easy to learn, promotes competitiveness and socialization, and is a great form of low impact exercise.

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) estimated that in 2023 there were over 2.8 million Pickleball players in the U.S., which was an increase of 12.3% from the previous year. Participation rates by age showed that participants tend to be older, with 75% of them being age 55 or older. Along with fitness benefits of the sport, many older adults enjoy playing Pickleball because it promotes competitiveness and socialization.

When played safely and in moderation, Pickleball is great exercise; benefiting flexibility, agility and muscle movement. However, with anything, injuries can happen.

Acute traumatic injuries can occur while playing Pickleball. Falls onto an outstretched hand are a common mechanism for wrist sprains and can also result in a fracture. The elbow and shoulder can also be injured by falls. Depending on the severity of the sprain, this injury could result in significantly impaired movement and may require immobilization with a brace. Further treatment consisting of relative rest, icing, compression, and elevation (RICE) are generally useful in the treatment of sprains.

Depending on severity, sprains can take several weeks to resolve, but patients can generally resume their previous level of play if proper steps are taken during the healing process. Return to sport participation for this and other injuries is often expedited by physical therapy. Minor bruising to the upper extremity may be initially treated with RICE, but an injury to the upper extremity that causes significant swelling, bruising, or limited range of motion should prompt a player to be evaluated.

Chronic injuries that can affect Pickleball players will typically result from overuse or repetitive movement. Flexor and extensor tendon strain at the wrist can develop, as well as epicondylitis injuries at the elbow. These are overuse injuries associated with repeated ball striking and can be limited by proper ball striking form. Once present, these injuries often respond to rest, focused stretching and gentle resistance exercise targeting the injured area. Bracing of the wrist or elbow can also potentially provide increased comfort and stability while healing.

Pickleball is a very popular and rapidly growing sport. Given its ease of play and low impact nature, it can be an enjoyable way for people of all ages to stay active and fit and help to promote a healthy lifestyle. As with all sports, there is a risk for a variety of injuries. However, taking a few steps in preparation coupled with proper knowledge of one’s own health, Pickleball can be an enriching activity enjoyed by players of all ages.


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