This article was updated January 2024.
Maybe you’ve started playing pickleball for the exercise, or maybe you enjoy spending time playing with your friends or family.
Whatever your motivation for playing pickleball, you probably already know that the sport can provide numerous health benefits – and great fun, too!
Pickleball is terrific for people of various skill levels, fitness levels and ages – but like all sports, it does present some injury risk.
And although pickleball is quite popular with people across the age spectrum, it seems to be especially appealing to older adults, who face a higher risk of injuries than their younger counterparts.
Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the US, with an estimated 36.5 million people taking part in 2023.
With this kind of popularity, especially with older Americans, it’s no wonder that injuries from playing pickleball are on the rise.
What Causes Pickleball Injuries
The repetitive motions and sudden movements that occur while playing pickleball can cause a range of injuries, including muscle strains and tears, tendon and ligament injuries, overuse injuries and more.
And like all vigorous sporting activities, there is always the risk of injuries from falls, for leg injuries from quick lateral movements or uneven surfaces, and for back injuries – both new and newly exacerbated.
While learning proper technique and warming up properly before play can help prevent many pickleball injuries, it is simply impossible to prevent all of them.
The good news is that proper care can usually get you back on your feet and playing pickleball again in no time.
Regular care from a sports injury specialist can also help you prevent reinjury and keep minor issues from becoming bigger ones over time.
Which brings us to a question many players have:
Can I Treat Pickleball Injuries at Home?
For minor issues like fleeting joint soreness or a light muscle strain, the RICE method of Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation at home can do a world of good and get you back to playing in no time.
However, if your issue doesn’t resolve after a few days of rest and care or if it reoccurs regularly, you should probably seek the advice of a medical professional.
When Should I Seek Medical Advice for a Pickleball-Related Injury or Issue?
Most people know to go to urgent care or the ER for injuries that cause serious pain, difficulty walking or a severely decreased range of motion.
But a lot of people wonder if it’s a good idea to seek care for less serious types of activity-induced pain.
The answer is yes, you should definitely seek expert advice if you’re experiencing any kind of pain beyond the usual light soreness after playing pickleball.
Even milder pain can sometimes be a symptom of a serious injury like a tear or sprain, especially if it doesn’t resolve with rest, time and care.
And less serious issues can grow to become more serious over time without proper care.
The best way to stay active and pain-free is to see a doctor at the first sign that something may be wrong.
What Kind of Doctor Should You See for Pickleball Injuries and Pain?
For most types of non-emergency pickleball injuries, an experienced chiropractor with experience in sports medicine is the type of doctor to see.
Look for a chiropractor who specializes in treating sports injuries and one with ample physical therapy experience, too.
A goods sports medicine chiropractic doctor can treat existing pickleball injuries, provide ongoing physical therapy, and help pinpoint root causes of chronic pain or repeat injury.
Your chiropractor will deploy a range of treatments to help you get rid of pain and improve your performance both on and off the pickleball court.
What Types of Injuries Can Pickleball Cause?
A lot of pickleball players dismiss pain or signs of injury because they figure they’re just regular wear and tear or aches from aging.
Knowing the types of injuries common in pickleball – as well as their hallmark symptoms – can help you recognize them early on and seek help before things get too bad.
5 Types of Common Injuries for Pickleball Players
Pickleball-related injuries can affect almost any part of the body and present suddenly or gradually over time.
These injuries can be caused sudden events like falls or rapid movement, or from repeated wear and tear.
Keep an eye out for these five common pickleball injuries and their signs:
- Rotator Cuff Strains and Tears
The rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that keep the shoulder in place, so you should beware of any new shoulder soreness or pain during play.
This crucial component of arm movement can be damaged by repetitive, overhead motion like stretching to hit a ball that’s flying past you.
Mild rotator cuff injuries like strains can have similar symptoms to more serious conditions like tendonitis and rotator cuff tears, so it’s important to have even minor-seeming injuries examined by a medical professional.
Whether your case is a mild strain or a major tear, a chiropractor can diagnose the issue and work to help you heal.
Your chiropractor can deploy a range of therapies, including things like demobilization, massage, hot and cold therapy, exercise, and physical therapy to help you heal faster and strengthen the tendons to prevent future injury.
Getting rotator cuff injuries from pickleball diagnosed quickly may also help you avoid the need for ongoing pain management medication or surgery.
- “Pickleball Elbow”
You’ve probably heard of tennis elbow, but now, more and more people are going to doctors and chiropractors with the same symptoms from playing pickleball.
The scientific name for this condition, whether induced by tennis or pickleball, is lateral epicondylitis.
The condition most often occurs due to wear and tear from repetitive motion – such as swinging a pickleball paddle over and over.
When you’re swinging your paddle repeatedly, microscopic tears can form in the tendons that stabilize the wrist and elbow.
These tears can lead to inflammation, pain and progressive degradation of the surrounding muscles.
Pickleball elbow might start as a mild irritation and gradually get worse, or it might present itself with considerable pain all at once.
Either way, this condition is likely to worsen over time, especially if you keep playing, so it’s important to visit a chiropractor as soon as you are able.
Tendon swelling and pain from overuse can also affect other joints – especially the shoulders, wrists, knees, and ankles.
Tendonitis in the shoulder is especially common in sports like pickleball and tennis, where you’re frequently reaching over your head to hit a ball.
Common symptoms of pickleball-induced tendonitis include:
- Burning sensation in the affected area
- Localized joint pain
- Pain at night
- Difficulty moving the joint
- A grating or crackling sound
- Pain that gets worse with certain movements, like holding a paddle or moving your forearm
- Weakened grip
Seeing a chiropractic sports medicine professional for symptoms of tendonitis can help keep you on the court and out of pain.
- Back Injuries
Just like the wear and tear that causes pickleball elbow, other common motions in the sport can become harmful over time.
In particular, many pickleball players are especially prone to experiencing sciatica, which is a form of back pain that radiates from the injured spot down into the leg.
Symptoms of sciatica can include numbness, tingling, or burning as well as pain and difficulty with certain movements.
Sciatica can have many causes, but repeatedly rotating your trunk – as pickleball players do when turning to hit the ball – can trigger this condition or cause it to flare up.
The physical demands of pickleball can also injure or inflame other areas of the back, including the lower back, upper back and neck.
Repeated overuse or injury of the back can lead to more serious issues over time, so it is important not to ignore your pain and just play through it.
Even if you are experiencing pain that feels manageable, you should visit a chiropractor to make sure there’s nothing more serious at play.
Mild to moderate back pain can be an early signal of more serious conditions, like a herniated disc or a pinched nerve.
An experienced chiropractor can help you discover the root cause of your pain and the problem and build a treatment plan accordingly.
Things like massage, spinal manipulation, and physical therapy may all be able to help you find relief and heal faster so you can get back to playing your favorite sport.
- Leg and Achilles Tendon Injuries
Pickleball can cause injuries in any of the muscles, ligaments or tendons of the leg, whether from overuse or sudden trauma.
Pickleball leg or ankle injuries can also be the result of failing to stretch before playing, using improper technique, or falling or colliding with another player.
One of the most common locations for pickleball injury is the Achilles tendon, which connects your calf muscle to the heel bone.
In some cases, the Achilles tendon can tear, causing calf pain, swelling, and stiffness in the lower leg and heel.
Or, as with tennis elbow, you can develop Achilles tendonitis from overuse.
Tendonitis of the Achilles may also be caused by the repeated stress of playing on a hard court.
Luckily, not all leg or Achilles injuries are serious – injuries like strains and mild tendonitis will often go away with rest and at-home care.
But if you want to make sure to get back on the court as soon as possible or you are concerned about making the injury worse with more play, seeing a chiropractor for leg sports injuries is always a good idea.
How Can a Chiropractor Help with Pickleball Injuries?
A chiropractor experienced in sports injuries can help you head off minor issues at the outset or resolve more serious issues that are affecting your ability to function normally and play.
Preventing Pickleball Injuries
A chiropractor can help you avoid pickleball injuries through injury prevention strategies like:
Proper warm-up technique: Your doctor can demonstrate special warmup exercises and stretches that will help you fully warm up your muscles, tendons and ligaments before you play. These may include jogging, lunges, squats, hitting soft shots, shoulder stretches and other pickleball-specific warmup routines.
Muscle strengthening and conditioning: Targeted exercises for strengthening the legs, shoulders, wrists and core can help you shore up the areas most in demand during pickleball. A good pickleball-focused strength training routine will include training you can do at home with limited equipment or one that fits in with your current gym regimen.
Spinal Alignment and Balance Work: Addressing preexisting chiropractic issues is key to preventing many pickleball injuries before they happen. Your doctor may work on fixing spinal alignment irregularities, improving posture, and ensuring your balance is good enough to prevent falls. Targeting underlying causes can also prevent injuries due to spinal wear and tear.
Treating Pickleball Injuries
Your chiropractor will thoroughly examine your injury and diagnose it using the appropriate clinical tools.
Depending on the type of injury, a physical exam may suffice, or you may need advanced imaging like X-rays or an MRI.
Based on your diagnosis, your doctor may recommend things like resting and icing the injury, immobilizing the area, and taking over the counter medication for inflammation and pain.
More serious injuries may require referrals for surgical assessment, as well.
Ongoing treatment may also include physical therapy, soft tissue therapy, massage therapy, and/or targeted chiropractic adjustments.
Some pickleball injuries may also require more advanced treatments like ultrasound, electrical stimulation or spinal decompression therapy.
Don’t Wait to Find Relief
Many patients wait too long to seek treatment for pickleball injuries because they don’t believe their pain is serious – or they don’t understand just how effective the treatments can be.
The truth is that any level of pain is more than you should be experiencing, and the longer you wait to get help, the worse your condition could become.
A Chiropractor with Exceptional Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy Expertise
Dr. Rush earned a degree in Exercise Sports Science and Wellness before going on to become a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine. This background makes him uniquely qualified to treat all your sports injuries and address their underlying musculoskeletal causes.
If you’re a pickleball player experiencing joint or muscle pain, Dr. Rush would love to help you get back to feeling and performing your best.
Give us a call today at 954-432-5006 to schedule a consultation or find out more.
Dr. Rush is a 1994 graduate of the University of Florida where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Exercise Sports Science and Wellness.
Dr. Rush earned his Doctor of Chiropractic Degree at Life University in 2000 where he was honored with magna cum laude. Dr. Rush was born and raised in South Florida where he returned after graduation. He currently practices in Pembroke Pines where he owns and operates Rush Chiropractic and Rehab.