Part of the attraction of pickleball is its relative safety and ease of play. At least compared to hard-hitting, fast-moving racquet sports like tennis, racquetball, handball or paddleball. The lightweight wiffle-like ball and small-sized (~16-inch long and 8-inch wide) racquet makes it easy on the hands, wrists and shoulders.
However, injuries do happen. Hang around the pickleball court any day and you’ll hear all about them. The main culprits are ankle sprains and muscle strains or pulls; occasionally a knee or back injury sidelines players. Overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis can also take a toll.
Eye injuries occur, too, so eye protection is recommended. And traumatic injury can happen as the result of a serious fall. I recently learned of a woman who broke both wrists when she fell while running back to retrieve a lob. And in the category of rare but yes it can happen, a healthy player I know suffered a pneumothorax when he fell on his elbow which was trapped under him.
So let’s talk about how we can keep pickleball athletes on the court rather than recovering on the sidelines or rushing to the emergency room. Here are some Fit2Finish recommendations for smart pickleball preparation to help you steer clear of typical injuries.
Be sure to include these in your pickleball preparation:
- Quickness and agility. Pickleball requires quick movement, quick footwork, quick reflexes and quick movement decisions. Intentionally work your fast twitch response system with small quick steps, especially quick starts, quick changes of direction, hopping, jumping and leaping.
- Targeted muscle strengthening. Forearm, hand and wrist strengthening will help your paddle strokes and your shot accuracy.
- Core strengthening. Save your back from strain by strengthening your supporting core muscles and torso. Everybody I know is a bit stiff in the neck and back when they first start playing. (Who bends down to play a low-bouncing wiffle ball 20+ times in an hour?) This will improve as you play regularly. But keep your core strong for a steady center from which to unleash that awesome overhead smash or finesse that deadly dink.
- Stretching. Stretch those hard-working muscles that you may not have used in a while. Slow sustained stretching after play will not only help with recovery but will leave your muscles and joints more supple and potentially less injury prone. It will also increase your ease of movement by maintaining your range of motion. We all tend to lose some elasticity as we age. Don’t be the tight player that goes twangggg.
- Dynamic balance. Pickleball demands good balance to play shots at net without falling into or getting caught in the kitchen. Practice hopping and leaping to a stable one-legged landing as well as steadied stopping before playing a shot. Off-balance shots are rarely effective. If you can’t get to a shot without falling off balance, let it go. Win the next point instead!
And if 1-5 above sound too much like TRAINING or CONDITIONING and you’re in this for the FUN, here’s the good news: the best and most specific preparation for playing pickleball is … playing pickleball. All the movements are there along with all the physical demands and strategic challenges.
Just do yourself a favor and keep yourself in the game by:
- ALWAYS warming up before you play
- gradually increasing the time and frequency you play
- respecting the temperature and hydrating well
- finding your right level of competition and challenge
- resisting the urge to chase the “impossible get” which might lead to a tumble or injury
Pickleball is way more fun on the court than on the sidelines. Give yourself the best chance to stay in the game by preparing your body to play well and listening to your body when you do.
Enjoy your pickling!