CHICAGO, Ill. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — During the pandemic, the popularity of pickleball exploded. Nearly five million players picked up a pickleball paddle in 2021, increasing its growth by 39 percent in the last two years. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association named pickleball the fastest growing sport in the U.S. But it may also be responsible for the fastest growing number of sport injuries among older adults.
The pickleball craze is showing no signs of slowing down.
“My favorite part of the game, that’s smashing the ball and they can’t return it,” Michael Callen told Ivanhoe.
It’s especially popular among an older crowd. While increasing in popularity, pickleball is also increasing in some challenges — even for those who played tennis when they were younger.
Callen detailed, “The ball is smaller, the court size is smaller, so you are kind of put into a smaller frame. It is more of a challenge to keep yourself vertical.”
About 19,000 pickleball injuries occur every year. Ninety-one percent of those players are 50 or older. Common injuries include ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis, wrist fractures, and hamstring or quadriceps muscle strain. So, what can players do to prevent these injuries? First is a proper warm up.
“It’s really arriving at least 15 to 20 minutes early, getting some light warm up to get your blood flow rolling,” shared Charles Bush-Joseph, MD, a sport medicine surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush.
Dr. Bush-Joseph recommends doing lateral steps, grapevines, high-knee marches, skipping and lunges to loosen muscles. Also, don’t skimp on the shoes. Get shoes that have good tread and are designed for tennis or pickleball played on a hard court. Good footing is your foundation for preventing falls. And you don’t need to slam the balls.
“It’s more of a game of finesse, where you dink the balls,” said Mary Keiser.
Taking these precautions can keep you in the game.
Another injury to be aware of on the pickleball court is heat stroke. Most pickleball courts are outdoors, and on a hot day, the court temperature can be five degrees hotter than the surrounding air temperature. So make sure to stay hydrated and wear a hat or visor while in the sun.
Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer
PREVENTING PICKLEBALL INJURIES
BACKGROUND: Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court with the net set to a height of 34 inches. It uses a perforated plastic ball and composite or wooden paddles that are double the size of ping-pong paddles. This sport can be played indoors or outdoors and is easy to learn. However, it can develop into a fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players. Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles, and equipment is fairly inexpensive, easily portable, and can be played by all ages. It is especially popular in school P.E. programs and in adult living communities. The game has developed a passionate following due to its friendly, social nature, and its multi-generational appeal. The sport is governed by the USA Pickleball Association which maintains the rules, sanctions tournaments, and provides player ratings.
COMMON PICKLEBALL INJURIES: Pickleball does have the possibility of injuries and accidents, including general risks such as a fall, bump, or bruise. There are common injuries that are categorized as overuse injuries, meaning they develop gradually over time due to repeated movements. Shoulder strain is general shoulder pain, or injury to the rotator cuff. Overextension of the shoulder can damage the muscles over time and cause pain, inflammation, and even reduce full range of motion. “Pickleball elbow” is a similar injury to tennis elbow that causes pain when the elbow is overused. This can cause soreness near and around the elbow, and aching, stiffness, and pain that worsens with movement. Heel bruising is another common injury that can develop over time. If the fat pad that surrounds the heel experiences irritation or damage due to repetitive contact and movements, this can cause internal bruising. Finally, Achilles tendonitis can develop from high-impact exercise or repeated stress on the lower leg. These symptoms include pain in the calf, swelling of the tendon area and lower leg, and heel stiffness.
PICKLEBALL BENEFITS THE BRAIN: Playing pickleball can help boost mental, emotional, and cognitive health. Running around on a court gets the heart pumping, which boosts blood flow to the brain. This increases the supply of oxygen, glucose, and nutrients to the organ between the ears, enhancing overall brain health. The footwork and hand-eye coordination required to play activates the cerebellum, an area at the back bottom of the brain involved in cognitive flexibility and processing speed. Research from Brazil shows that physical activity that requires planning, like deciding to smash the ball or dink it softly over the net, and complex movements result in higher gray matter volume, which is associated with increased ability to evaluate rewards and consequences. Moving the body protects the hippocampus, structures located within the temporal lobes that are involved in the formation of memories. Getting the heart-pumping allows more of the natural mood-enhancing amino acid L-tryptophan to enter the brain, which is the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin that helps balance moods. And the social bonding that comes with playing a group activity like pickleball helps combat loneliness and boosts mood.
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