Seven Tips to Help Prevent Pickleball Injuries

Julie Kessler, a pickleball professional registry certified coach reminds her students that if you haven't had regular exercise or activity, start slow and play for a limited amount of time.

"Pickleball is fun and addictive so it's easy to play for hours," she says. That can increase the risk of getting injured.

Here are seven tips that will help prevent pickleball injuries, so you can continue to enjoy the game:

"When your paddle and your toes point in the same direction, you're less prone to reaching too far and losing your balance."

1. Warm up before playing pickleball. Most of us stretch and warm up before playing, but Coach Kessler recommends specific drills that are unique to pickleball. Because the game requires so many quick, short movements, she says warmups should include lateral steps, grapevines (a form of aerobics exercise), high-knee marches, skipping and lunges to loosen muscles.

2. Wear appropriate shoes. Pickleball is a speed game with continuous stops and starts. Good footing is your foundation for preventing falls and falls lead to most of the sport's sprains and fractures. As Kessler says, "The hard court is very unforgiving and can cause sore muscles and joints ... and worse." She recommends shoes that have a good tread and are designed for tennis or pickleball played on a hard court. Don't skimp on your shoes.

3. Take steps to avoid heat stroke. Most pickleball courts are outside. On a hot day, the court temperature can be 5 degrees hotter than the surrounding air temperature. As we get older, it's easy to get dehydrated, which can lead to more serious conditions. Drinking water, or even better, a beverage infused with electrolytes, will keep your head clear. Since games are short, you can take a break in between them to cool off and replenish these vital nutrients. And be sure to wear a hat or visor in the sun.

4. Maintain your balance. Probably the biggest danger playing pickleball is losing your balance. Kessler encourages exercises such as standing on a balance board or on one leg, and when playing, leading with your paddle. "Track the ball with the front edge of your paddle," she says. "When your paddle and your toes point in the same direction, you're less prone to reaching too far and losing your balance."

5. Avoid backpedaling. With apologies to Neil Sedaka, "Backing up is hard to do." Just as I tripped over my own feet — and I'm usually quite agile — it's easy to trip, especially as you're looking up at the lob that's going over your head. The bright sun can also be shining directly into your eyes. The best solution, according to Kessler, is not to backpedal, but to turn your hips toward the ball.

And partners need to communicate. For example, you should go for the lob over your partner's head and your partner can get the ball going over your head. Neither of you backpedal in that situation because you're running at an angle to the back of the court.

6. Don't play on a wet court. It may be your worst enemy of all. Many avid pickleball players are so eager to get on the court that when we see a damp one, they figure, "Oh, that's dry enough." It only takes the one spot that didn't dry or drain well to cause a serious slip. And no matter how much tread you have on your new, specially designed pickleball shoe, it's no match for water. Wait for another time or day.

7. Protect your eyes. Racket sports like pickleball have consistently ranked as one of the top activities linked to eye injuries. Some can be serious enough to cause a permanent loss of eyesight. Wearing shatterproof glasses or sunglasses will help. And, while it may seem obvious, get used to where your partner is located. Calling out "I've got it!" when a ball is yours will help avoid you or someone else being hit with a pickleball paddle. 

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