Don’t Get in a Pickle with Pickleball!

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“That pickleball lesson this weekend wore me out!” said Nancy, who’s new to the sport. “I found three new bruises and my ankles are sore. I need to get into better shape to keep this up!”

It’s one of the fastest-growing recreational sports in the United States and possibly the world. A combination of tennis, badminton and table tennis, it’s accessible to all ages and skill levels and considered a low-impact way to stay active.

But how safe is it? It’s a sport, and like all activities, comes with some risk. Let’s look at some of those risks and some ways to prevent injuries to stay in the game.

Tennis Elbow?
Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, now called pickleball elbow, and rotator cuff injuries are a couple of the upper extremity injuries that are common. Lower extremity injuries occur as the player moves to get to the ball and injuries include worsening of arthritis, Achilles tendon tears or strains and foot fractures. In the body’s middle are low back strains, muscular strains, ankle sprains. Analysis of pickleball-related injuries using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission from 2001 to 2017 identified 300 types of injuries; those 50 years or older accounted for 90.9 percent of the patients. Half were sprains or fractures.

Prevention Strategies
If you’re not familiar with the mechanics of tennis, take a few lessons to learn the form that leads to better performance and injury prevention. A well-informed player is a better player. If you’re not physically prepared, start with some basic exercises mentioned below.

Get checked by your doctor if you’ve been inactive. A bone scan or screen for osteopenia or osteoporosis is strongly recommended, as you will be engaging in strenuous weight-bearing movements.
Most courts are outdoors, so wear court shoes to avoid ailments such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis or bunions. Asics, Skechers, K-Swiss, New Balance and Adidas offer shoes designed especially for pickleball with extra cushioning, wider toe boxes, support and extra traction. Make sure the fit is good; blisters can slow your learning curve.

Clear any debris on the court. Hydrate well, since this will prevent heat stroke and dizziness in warmer weather. Do some quick stretches to warm up your muscles and start stretching out tendons.
A skill that’s important is learning to fall! There’s a high likelihood of injury from falling; learn to fall in a way that’s less likely to lead to injury. If you have access to an agility ladder, practice footwork with it. Practice going from a standing position, transition to kneeling, move downward to your side and then flat on your back. From there, practice returning to a standing position, rolling to your side, then to a hands and knees position, then lunging or walking your feet to a standing position. Practice rolling on a yoga mat or thicker surface. Explore the concept of proprioception, also known as kinesthesia, the body’s ability to sense movement, action and location. Disciplines such as Pilates and martial arts training emphasize these muscle movements.
If you’re new to pickleball, slowly ramp up playing time. Cross train with swimming and stationary cycling to build up cardiovascular endurance. General injury prevention can include warming up and exercise.

Ankle Stabilization
Controlled heel raises help strengthen the ankles. Hold a counter or table for balance. Stand with feet hip width apart and toes pointing forward. Slowly raise your heels as high as they will go and lower slowly. Start with a few repetitions and then increase reps.

Knee Strain
Twisting and pivoting during pickleball play can aggravate knee arthritis. Try a side-lying leg lift to strengthen the entire leg all the way to the hip; overall leg strength helps protect the knees. Lie on your side. Lift the top leg, keeping the knee straight; keep the hips stacked on top of each other and engage the core. Slowly lower the leg, then lift again. If you feel it in your glutes, you’re engaging those muscles and making progress. Repeat and switch sides. Increase reps over time.

Hamstring Stretch
During sudden stops, the hammies get stretched if they’re not warmed up. Stand with feet side by side, extend your left leg in front so your heel is on the ground with toes pointing up. Bend your right knee and hinge at the waist so the torso angles forward, giving you a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and switch legs, repeating.

Improve balance to prevent falls. Stand with feet hip width apart. Lift one leg off the ground, hold for 15 seconds. Stretch to the front for 15 seconds; extend to the side, then to the back. Alternate legs. Do while you’re brushing your teeth! Extend time as you’re able.

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