As the weather warms up and spring blooms around us, many are eager to dust off their pickleball paddles and hit the courts. Pickleball is a fantastic sport for individuals of all ages, offering a fun way to stay active and socialize. However, returning to the court after a period of inactivity can put you at risk for certain injuries, especially if proper precautions aren’t taken.

Let’s take a look at common upper body injuries in pickleball and how to prepare best to avoid them.

Understanding Common Injuries:

1. Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow:

Both tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) are overuse injuries that can occur from repetitive motions, such as swinging a pickleball paddle. These injuries affect the tendons around the elbow and can cause pain and discomfort.

    • Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) affects the tendons on the outer side of your elbow, specifically the extensor tendon group. These tendons are responsible for extending the wrist and fingers. You may experience pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow, weakened grip strength, and discomfort while performing activities that involve gripping or lifting.
    • Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis) affects the tendons on the inner side of the elbow, known as the flexor tendon group. These tendons enable flexion of the wrist and fingers. Golfer’s elbow manifests as pain and tenderness on the inner side of the elbow, weakness in the affected arm, and discomfort when bending or lifting objects.

 

2. Shoulder Impingement:

Shoulder impingements are often caused by repetitive overhead activities like a confident overhead smash. Impingement occurs when the rotator cuff tendons and the subacromial bursa become compressed between the bones in the shoulder. This compression can irritate the tendons and bursa, leading to inflammation, pain, and limited range of motion, making it difficult to play pickleball comfortably. You might experience pain and aching sensations in the shoulder, difficulty raising your arm overhead, and discomfort when reaching or throwing.

    • Tennis Leg (Calf Strain): Also known as a calf strain, tennis leg can happen when the calf muscles are overstretched or torn. This injury can occur during sudden movements or changes in direction on the pickleball court. Often involving the gastrocnemius or soleus muscles at the back of the lower leg, symptoms of tennis leg include sudden pain or popping sensation in the calf, swelling, bruising, and difficulty walking or bearing weight on the affected leg.
    • Ankle Sprains: Ankle sprains are common in sports that involve quick changes in direction or jumping. Typically, the ligaments surrounding the ankle joint are stretched or torn, most commonly the lateral ligaments. Landing awkwardly or rolling your ankle while playing pickleball can lead to sprains, causing pain swelling, bruising, difficulty walking or bearing weight, and instability of the ankle joint.

It’s crucial to listen to your body and seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms. Pressure, Rest/Refer, ice, compression, and elevation (PRRICE) can be helpful in the immediate aftermath of an injury, but a proper diagnosis and treatment plan from a healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist, are vital for a full recovery. (​see more​ in our Acute Injury Management including PRRICE & Ice Application)

Pickleball injuries on court

Preparing to Play Safely:

1. Warm-Up Properly: Before stepping onto the court, spend some time warming up your muscles and joints. Start with some light cardio, such as walking or jogging, followed by dynamic stretches that target the muscles used in pickleball, including the shoulders, arms, legs, and ankles.

2. Focus on Technique: Pay attention to your technique while playing pickleball, especially when swinging the paddle. Proper form can help reduce the strain on your muscles and joints, lowering your risk of injury.

3. Start Slowly: If you’re returning to pickleball after a break, ease back into the game gradually. Start with shorter playing sessions and lower-intensity games to allow your body to adjust to the demands of the sport again.

4. Invest in Proper Gear: Make sure you have the right equipment for pickleball, including comfortable athletic shoes with good support and grip. Proper footwear can help prevent ankle injuries and provide stability on the court.

5. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any signs of discomfort or pain while playing pickleball. If you experience persistent pain or notice any unusual symptoms, take a break and consult with a physiotherapist or healthcare professional.

 

By taking these precautions and preparing your body properly, you can enjoy a safe and injury-free return to pickleball this spring. Remember to stay hydrated, take regular breaks during play, and prioritize your overall health and well-being on and off the court. Have fun, stay active, and enjoy the game!

If you have any concerns or questions about these injuries or need assistance with a current condition, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Your well-being is our priority, and we are here to support you every step of the way.

Stay safe and happy playing!

Melanie Tuck, Certified Athletic Therapist