Injuries in Pickleball – Habits that Help or Hurt
In any physical activity, especially sports, injuries are bound to occur. The twists, turns, sudden starts, stops, and cuts of pickleball can result in even the most fit athlete experiencing an injury. For those of us that have experienced an injury and are regulars on the courts, one of the first thoughts after experiencing an injury is, how long will this keep me out? Play enough and you will see or hear about injuries such as muscle pulls, knee, Achilles, elbows, feet, back, neck and more. In this article, we will explore habits that can help us avoid injury and keep us where we want to be, on the court.
Not Warming Up
Paramount to injury avoidance is copious amounts of self-awareness and honesty. Let’s start with something we’ve all seen and done. You pull up to the parking lot of the courts. People are playing and/or your partners are waiting. You find your way out on the court and after hitting five warmup dinks, with no running, you say or hear, “I’m good!”. Before you know it, you’ve gone from the seat of your car to covering a full court in less than three minutes.
We all want to play the game and you don’t want to hold up others but jumping on the court and starting a full-blown game is a recipe for disaster. It seems like common sense, but please warm up. We’ll explore a little bit more about warming up next but will try to convince you with this plea. How often, when just jumping in and playing without warmup, have you played well? Typically, this first game is not a great one without proper preparation. Take the time to warm up completely, decrease the likelihood you will suffer an injury, and this first game will not be wasted while you “warm up” while playing.
Stretching, Sweating, and Shots
Most healthy habits involve dedication to a regular, repeatable, routine. When stepping on the court to play pickleball, develop a routine that works for you and properly prepares your body for exciting points.
Let’s start with some basic stretching. Start by thinking of your body and muscles from your head and moving all the way to your toes. Start with working your neck. Then move into your shoulders. Don’t forget about your arms, elbow, and fingers. Yes, your fingers. Just simple flexing of your fingers will help your hands and elbows at the same time. Keep going to your back, hips, legs, ankles, and feet. Talk to your doctor or see a trainer for a routine that can help each of these areas through targeted and specific stretches. Think about involving your partners. Yes, ask them all to do it together. If you are all participating, chances are you will take the proper time and you can help each other lower the chances that anyone gets injured.
After stretching, move into working up a bit of sweat. You don’t have to run laps around the park to get this sweat going. A simple shot routine can help you get going and practice your shots at the same time. Start with you and your partner at opposing kitchen lines. Just do some basic dinking straight on. From there, move to cross court dinking. Then, volley back-and-forth, starting with slow volleys and picking up speed as you go. Next practice some drops moving between the kitchen and the baseline, while your partner stays at their non-volley line. Finally, hit a few serves, with your partner returning it to you. By the end of this routine, you will be surprised. It will not take very long, but you will be sweating and combined with the stretching you should feel much more prepared for real competitive action.
Let’s use a story that will be effective in illustrating what it means to “play smart”. Early on in his pickleball play, a player was suffering regular injuries. In a bit of a wakeup call, this player’s daughter hit him with a dose of reality. She said, “Dad, it is great you love to play pickleball, but you must be smart.”. Okay, I admit it. This story is about me. It is right about now that I am trying to figure out if my daughter just called me stupid. I asked her for clarity. She clarified by saying, you need to listen to your body and think about the odds of success as you push your body in each game. What she was really saying is you aren’t going to continue to improve if you cannot play because you are hurt. She was also telling me to play as an adult and not a teenager. This means sometimes an opposing player is going to hit a great shot and I need to be smart enough to admit it was a great shot and let it go, living to fight another point/game.
Another interesting scenario provided me with additional learning. Playing with a top-rated stranger, I wanted to show him I could hustle. The ball went bounding into the next court and wanting to be courteous, I ran as hard as I could to stop it from rolling into the next court. Thinking I impressed my new friend, I ran back to our court, and he pulled me aside, telling me to never do that again. I was shocked, but he went on to explain that he’d seen a lot of people fall or pull a muscle while chasing down a dead ball and I should never do it again. He clarified, while it stops play for the court next to us, he’s never seen someone fall on an errant ball. It was an on-the-spot lesson in being smart. Lesson learned!
Finally, it may seem obvious, but there is one more aspect to playing smart. Don’t play hurt. If you feel a little off or tweak something and it is not feeling quite right, stop playing immediately. It is way better to take a step back and rest for a few days or weeks, as opposed to playing through whatever is wrong and suffering something more catastrophic. Your friends and partners will understand.
If you want to stay on the court, it goes without saying that the more you take care of your body, the more your body will take care of you on and off the court. Pickleball is great exercise, but fitness in all aspects of your life will help you wherever you go. Care of your mind, body, and overall spirit will help contribute to endless hours of pickleball happiness, but also wellness off the court. The two go hand-and-hand. Be “smart” about your prep and routines, along with your on-court performance. Doing so will pay huge dividends to you, your partners, and your overall game.
Written By: Christopher Amidzich
Disclaimer: The medical advice, views, and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and contributors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Selkirk Sport or its affiliates. Selkirk Sport does not endorse, warrant, and/or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process discussed. Specific medical advice should be discussed and reviewed with a qualified physician.