Pickleball is exploding, and there are players of all ages and fitness levels who cannot wait to get on the courts every day. Unfortunately, this particular addiction, much like running, comes with overuse and chronic injury issues. How can you, as a player (or parent, coach or partner) help prevent pickleball injuries?
Dr. Andrew Kassinove, medical director of the emergency department at JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio and the chief of staff at JFK, has seen his share of pickleball injuries.
“It started probably about five years ago,” he says. “All of a sudden, it went from I never heard of (the game) to every single person is playing it. And people are coming in with injuries left and right. … It really took off, and then the injuries followed.”
The walking wounded, he says, come into the hospital often.
“We’ve definitely seen them every week,” Kassinove says. “Especially in season.”
There are what he calls the “acute” injuries: sprained ankles, Achilles’ tendon strains, knee sprains, hamstring strains, wrist fractures, wrist strains and yes, even hip fractures.
And there are the “chronic,” or overuse, injuries: Plantar fasciitis, heel contusions, tennis elbow, strains to the lower back.
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Pickleball can be deceptively easy to pick up, even for relative couch potatoes. That, Kassinove said, can give players a false sense of confidence.
“It’s a smaller court (than tennis), and people will think that they’re fit and can kind of go out there and not realize that they’re lunging and bouncing around,” says Kassinove, who himself has played the game. “So we’ll get things from those falls or sudden turning.”
One of the best steps players can take to prevent injuries, Kassinove says, is to wear the proper footwear. That means shoes with a lot of side support, like those designed for playing tennis. Running shoes are a big no-no.
“You’re going to get a lot of injuries if you were running shoes on a pickleball court, because a running shoe has no lateral support. It’s for going forward. … But if you’re moving side to side, like in tennis, you want to have that side-to-side support. Otherwise, you’re going to roll your ankle and sprain it.”
Kassinove recommends a good warm-up, and generally encourages players to work on their overall fitness as they ramp up their time on the courts. “The important thing is that you view it as a sport, and try to get in shape for it,” he said.
David Mesirow, a fitness instructor from Mary’s gym, In Shape in Cathedral City, agreed and has more ideas for how to strengthen different areas to prevent injuries and improve your pickleball fitness. Mesirow, who has decades of experience training athletes, says the main issues for older athletes are related to ankles and hips, but particularly knees and lower backs.
Pickleball involves repetitive use of shoulders, elbows and wrists, so Mesirow recommends players incorporate certain exercises and stretches into their routines.
“In terms of the wrist,” Mesirow said, “I’m sure you’re familiar with the rolling up and back with a stick with a rope with a weight hanging on the bottom. That’s great for strengthening the wrists and the muscles of the forearm.”
For shoulders and elbows, he recommends a combination of hand-held weights for deltoids and upper body weight-bearing exercises like planks, push-ups from the knees, or push-ups the regular way from the feet.
“Even doing wall push-ups would be helpful for those who are just starting, as it might be easier than a plank or a push-up on the ground,” Mesirow said. “In addition, people can use their countertops in their kitchens to do triceps reverse push-ups, as well as push-ups or push-aways.”
Mesirow said another great workout for the arms and upper body and for overall posture is water exercise, specifically upper body movements like breaststroke and reverse breaststroke.
“These are using the 12% increase in resistance that water has as compared to land, and will give the chest, shoulders, upper back, rhomboids, lats, and all those muscles in the upper torso a great stretch as well as muscular endurance training session,” he advises.
To avoid pulled hamstrings, knee strain, calf pulls, and ankle issues, Mesirow recommends yoga and Pilates training plus balance, posture and alignment training.
“Most injuries occur because of poor alignment and flexibility coupled with weak joints or muscles,” Mesirow said. “People tend to forget that we want to make sure that the muscles are strong, the tendons are strong, the ligaments are strong, and all three work together to support the skeletal structure through any activity. That means that we must have flexibility, and the ability to move in all the planes of motion.”
Many athletes make the mistake of doing too much of one sport, whether that’s spinning, yoga or yes, pickleball, he says.
“None of us is training to be an Olympian, we’re training to be fit for life,” Mesirow said. “You can’t get all the components of fitness from one activity.”
Fitness encompasses muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, speed, agility, power and cardiorespiratory output. The answer, Mesirow says, is cross-training.
“Many years ago, Olympic athletes who are swimmers swam, and that was their training. Today, we know that not only do they swim, but they weight train, as well as do yoga and other forms of physical training that enhances their ability to swim their very best,” Mesirow said. “Cross-training is the answer both to having a stronger, more healthy body, and also as a strategy to avoid/prevent injuries, specifically overuse injuries.”
The bottom line: Add variety to your weekly workouts and focus on quality, not quantity when it comes to pickleball time and how it affects your body.
Other simple suggestions to avoid injuries:
- Hydrate, eat, wear sunscreen, a hat or visor, and sunglasses. Wear comfortable, breathable clothing.
- Wear thicker socks – it really helps your feet with the lateral movement
- Warm up: Stretch and do drills.
- Check out the facility: Some courts have nets as barriers that are very close to the baseline. Mary got caught in one several times last weekend at an event at a club. Shorten your backswing and be aware.
- Lights: If you are playing at night and have vision issues, be sure to acclimate your eyes and your body to the lighting.
- Defending the lob: Be aware of the closeness of the back fence and the court barriers.
- Indoor play: Remember — it is faster, the ball skips, and sometimes it is difficult to see the lines and the ball. Shorten your backswing. Wear goggles to protect your eyes.
From Mary’s experience, it’s best not to play more than two hours per day, and not more than three to four times per week. Know your body, and when it is time to quit. Take a rest day regularly, or find some alternative activities. Consider adding hiking, biking, swimming, walking, golf, dancing, gym classes, and weights.
It is hard to cope when we are injured: Mary has had back surgery and three knee surgeries, and ice is her best friend. Take care of your body, and you will be pickling into your nineties!
Coach Mary’s tip of the week
When hitting overheads or running to defend lobs, never backpedal. Turn sideways, slide step and run. Communicate with your partner on your limitations, and try to be ready to cut diagonally behind your partner to cover the lob while your partner switches sides. Keep the ball deep to your opponents’ backhands, so they can’t keep lobbing you.
Tickets on sale for USA Pickleball National Championships at Indian Wells
The 2021 USA Pickleball National Championships are coming to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in December. Tickets are now on sale. General admission starts at $5, reserved seats start at $10 and parking will run $10.
The tennis garden requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all participants, fans, volunteers, staff, sponsors, media, and vendors.
- Tuesday, Dec. 7: men’s singles 50+ / women’s doubles 50+
- Wednesday, Dec. 8: men’s doubles 50+ / women’s singles 50+
- Thursday, Dec. 9: men’s singles / women’s singles / mixed doubles senior 50+
- Friday, Dec. 10: mixed doubles
- Saturday, Dec. 11: men’s doubles / women’s doubles
- Sunday, Dec. 12: men’s singles 65+ / women’s singles 65+
- Monday, Dec. 13: men’s doubles 65+/ women’s doubles 65+
- Tuesday, Dec. 14: mixed doubles 65+
To purchase, visit https://usapickleballnationalchampionships.com/tickets/ or call (800) 999-1585 Option 2
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