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Building an Athletic Foundation for Adults: The Key to Injury Prevention in Pickleball

Author: D1 Training Henderson

Pickleball is a relatively new sport that has been growing in popularity in recent years. It is a cross between badminton, tennis, and table tennis, and is played on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net. Pickleball is a low-impact sport that is easy to learn and can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels. However, like any sport, there is always the risk of injury.

The most common pickleball injuries are:

  • Sprains and strains: These injuries are caused by stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon. They can occur in the lower leg, ankle, knee, shoulder, or elbow.
  • Fractures: These injuries can occur when a player falls or is hit by the ball. They are most common in the wrist, arm, and foot.
  • Overuse injuries: These injuries are caused by repetitive movements. They can occur in the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and knee.
  • Head injuries: These injuries can occur when a player is hit by the ball or falls. They are most common in children and beginners.

The risk of injury in pickleball can be reduced by following these tips:

  • Warm up before playing. This will help to loosen your muscles and reduce your risk of injury.
  • Stretch after playing. This will help to prevent muscle soreness and stiffness.
  • Wear proper footwear. Shoes with good arch support and traction will help to protect your feet and ankles.
  • Avoid sudden movements. Make smooth, controlled movements to reduce your risk of a fall or injury.
  • Listen to your body. If you start to feel pain, stop playing and rest.

In addition to these general tips, there are also specific training programs that can help to reduce the risk of injury in pickleball. These programs typically focus on strengthening the muscles and tendons in the lower body, as well as improving balance and coordination.

At D1 we include basic movements, which we call “movement prep” in our warm ups and performance sections. We go beyond the basic movements to train the body to respond athletically with our performance section. The performance section for adults is designed to help reduce these types of injuries that are also common in everyday life. Plyometrics are a great example of exercises adults tend to ignore, but can help to preserve vitality and improve longevity.

If you are new to pickleball, or if you are at risk of injury, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about a safe and effective training program.

There have been a number of scientific studies on pickleball injuries. A 2019 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine found that there were about 19,000 pickleball injuries per year, with 90% of them affecting people 50 or older. The most common injuries were sprains and strains (40%), followed by fractures (20%), overuse injuries (15%), and head injuries (5%).

Another study, published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy in 2021, found that the most common pickleball injuries were to the lower extremities, including the ankle, knee, and hip. The study also found that the risk of injury increased with age and with the level of competition.

Short training program to address the most common pickleball injuries

The following is a short training program that can help to address the most common pickleball injuries:

  • Warm-up: Start with a 5-10 minute warm-up that includes dynamic stretches, such as arm circles, leg swings, and torso twists.
  • Strength training: Focus on exercises that strengthen the muscles and tendons in the lower body, such as squats, lunges, and calf raises. You can also do exercises that improve balance and coordination, such as tai chi or yoga.
  • Cool-down: Finish with a 5-10 minute cool-down that includes static stretches, such as holding a hamstring stretch for 30 seconds.

In addition to this training program, it is also important to follow the general tips for preventing pickleball injuries, such as warming up before playing, stretching after playing, and wearing proper footwear.

Here are some specific exercises that can help to prevent pickleball injuries:

  • Ankle strengthening: To strengthen your ankles, stand on a step with your toes hanging off the edge. Slowly lower your heels down until you feel a stretch in your calves. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 10 times.
  • Knee strengthening: To strengthen your knees, do squats. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Lower your body down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Hold for 2 seconds and then stand back up. Do 10-15 squats.
  • Hip strengthening: To strengthen your hips, do lunges. Start with one leg forward and the other leg back. Lower your body down until your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Hold for 2 seconds and then stand back up. Do 10-15 lunges on each leg.
  • Balance exercises: To improve your balance, stand on one leg for 30 seconds. You can also try standing on a balance board or doing tai chi.
  • Coordination exercises: To improve your coordination, try juggling or playing catch. You can also do yoga or Pilates.

By following these tips, you can help to reduce your risk of injury and enjoy pickleball safely.