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7 Ways to Prevent Pickleball Injuries

How to stay safe playing the country’s fastest-growing sport


Video: Get Ready for the Pickleball Court With These Stretches

As the thwack of the pickleball is the dink heard round the nation, more and more people are getting in on the fun. Pickleball, a mash-up of ping-pong, tennis and badminton, is the fastest-growing sport in the country, with 8.9 million players volleying and “dinking” at courts across the nation, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The association says participation in the sport increased by a whopping 159 percent over three years.

The sport’s name, legend has it, stems either from a cocker spaniel owned by one of the founders or the pickle boat of crew races. It’s played on a small court — one tennis court can be subdivided into four pickleball courts — with two teams of two people per team.

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Pickleball players, fondly referred to as picklers, have taken to the courts with a fierce zeal. The sport’s instantaneous appeal can be chalked up to its preternaturally low barrier to entry. The time between learning the game and having a blast with it can be as brief as an hour. You can even play if you are in a wheelchair (with slightly different rules).

Strains and sprains rising

The benefits to pickleball are numerous, from exercise and mental acuity to social connection and purpose. In the shadows of its meteoric rise, however, lies a wake of pickleball-related injuries. Pickleball is categorized as a low-impact and mild-intensity sport, but pickleball injuries are growing.

One analysis published in 2021 in Injury Epidemiology estimated that there were nearly 29,000 pickleball injuries from 2010 to 2019. About 60 percent were strains, sprains and fractures, according to the study, and 85 percent of those visiting emergency rooms because of a pickleball injury were over age 60. Wrist and lower leg injuries were most common, the study found, followed by head, lower trunk, ankle, knee and shoulder. Injuries were mainly due to slips, trips, falls and dives.

Although injuries are becoming more commonplace, they are still a mere fraction relative to the legions of players who remain unscathed. “Pickleball overall is a very safe sport. Compared to other sports, the injury rate per minute is much lower, ” says Bruce Moseley, an orthopedic surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

But as with any sport, the more people play, the more injuries will occur. Compared to tennis, says Moseley, “pickleball is more stepping and moving than jumping and running. This is great for your joints and muscles. People can tolerate it better.” The rackets are smaller, lighter and less cumbersome than tennis rackets, and the whiffle-type ball made from plastic is easier to hit.

“By far the most effective way to protect against these injuries is to stretch and warm up beforehand,” Moseley says. Many of these injuries could be prevented by stretching the fronts and backs of the leg, the trunk and the lower back, he adds.

So there’s no need to retire your racket — just add a brief warm-up to your pickleball playbook, and chances are you will be all set.

Let’s Play Pickleball!

Become a part of the country’s fastest growing sport. Learn the rules, tips for playing and ways to win. Plus, how to warm up, what to wear and where to play. 

Read more about the joy of pickleball

Exercises to prevent pickleball injuries

AARP asked Lee Whitwell, reigning MVP of Major League Pickleball (MLP), to design our pickleball dynamic stretching routine. Whitwell grew up playing tennis, became a Division II national champion and went on to play professionally. She picked up a pickleball paddle for the first time in 2017 and soon after participated in her inaugural pickleball tournament — and won. She competes professionally and is a huge advocate of the game, which she sees as offering not just a great workout but a third space, similar to the one that church occupies, beyond work and home.

“It’s so inclusive and so accepting,” she says. “Nobody cares whether you are Black, white, male, female, old, young, Democrat, Republican, able-bodied, not able-bodied. It doesn’t matter. They just want to go out there and have fun.”

But to keep having fun and play for prolonged periods for days on end, players need to consider how to prepare the body for pickleball. To that end, Whitwell created a roughly five-minute dynamic workout she wants you to do before your first game, and after any break in the action longer than an hour.

Try this dynamic warm-up designed to prep your body for pickleball and prevent injuries.

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Lee Whitwell’s 5-minute dynamic stretching routine

1. March in place

This is done to get the body moving and the blood flowing. It gets your heart rate up without straining the joints and prepares the body for more strenuous tasks.

  • Stand straight with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet hip-width apart.
  • Bring you left knee up and right elbow forward at the same time.
  • Repeat on the opposite side and keep marching in place for one minute.
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Lee Whitwell recommends players do a dynamic stretching workout before each game to help prevent pickleball injuries.
Christopher Gregory-Rivera

2. Squats

Body-weight squats help warm up the glutes and hip flexor muscles, the quadriceps, abs, calves and hamstrings. Being loose in these areas is key for pickleball, which demands quick footwork and a ready position (knees slightly bent and body weight on the balls of your feet).

  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep the weight over the balls of your feet (avoid raising the toes or the heels).
  • Keep your knees in line with the toes as you lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  • Keep the torso lifted and the top of your head reaching upward, as if you were going to sit on a chair. Maintain a neutral spine throughout the squat.
  • Press through your feet to extend your legs and return to standing.
  • Do 10-15 squats.

3. Reverse lunges

The lunge requires strength, balance and a stable core. It conditions your hips, knees and ankles, preparing your body for the lunges in various directions pickleball requires.

  • With feet hip-width apart, stand as if you were on railroad tracks.
  • Maintain good posture with your back straight, chest lifted and eyes straight ahead.
  • Shift your weight into your left foot as you step your right foot backward, planting your weight in the ball of your foot. Make sure your front and back feet line up with your hips.
  • Lower your body straight down by bending both knees to about 90 degrees, or as far down as you can comfortably go. Your back knee should not touch the floor. Make sure your front knee does not extend over your front foot.
  • Reset your feet back together and lunge your other leg behind you, alternating so you do five lunges on each leg.
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4. Kickers

Kicks improve the flexibility of the hamstrings. Hamstring injuries, often caused by sudden movements, are common in pickleball.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides.
  • Lift one leg straight in front of you while reaching for it with your opposite hand.
  • Maintain an upright posture, avoiding leaning forward or back.
  • Lower your lifted leg and repeat with the opposite leg and arm. Continue alternating sides, doing five kicks on each side.

AARP Sponsors Association of Pickleball Players Tour

AARP sponsors the Association of Pickleball Players (APP) Tour and is the title partner of the AARP Champions (50+) and Masters (60+) divisions. Pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in the United States for the past three years because it is fun, active, social and accessible to everyone. The organization’s sponsorship includes free clinics at each tour stop for members to learn pickleball from APP pros, instructional videos about the sport and inspirational stories about how pickleball has transformed people’s lives.

5. Trunk rotations

Because they increase the flexibility of your spine, trunk rotations can ward off lower back strain, often associated with the forward bending that striking the ball entails. 

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and facing forward.
  • Slowly start to twist your upper body to the right, gently swinging your arms, which are bent at the elbows rather than fully extended. Keep your head, chest and torso in one vertical line as you move.
  • Hold the rotation for a moment once you’ve moved as far right as you can safely go. Then, begin to slowly rotate to the left.
  • Repeat the motion on the left side, then return to the right in one continuous movement, doing five reps on each side.

6. Chest openers

This exercise lengthens and stretches the muscles of the chest, torso and front of the shoulders.

  • Stand up tall.
  • Cross your arms over each other in the front of your chest, squeezing your should blades apart.
  • Then draw your arms out and back. Repeat 10 times.
  • Add a variation. Instead of keeping your arms level, move your arms out diagonally, each time reversing the diagonal. Do this five times on each side.

7. Swim strokes

The most common pickleball injury, says Mosely, is a rotator cuff tear. This causes shoulder pain, especially with movement and use. Warming up the range of motion of your shoulders can help prevent this painful injury.

  • Hinge slightly at the hips, knees bent.
  • Pretend you are doing a crawl stroke, like you are swimming forward in imaginary water.
  • Then move your arms backward, circling your arms like you are doing a backstroke.

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