How to Avoid Pickleball Injuries: Tips from an Orthopedic Surgeon

Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in America, with more than 36.5 million Americans playing the game from August 2021 to August 2022. However, with the sport's increasing popularity comes an increase in pickleball injuries. In this article, we'll provide tips from Dr. Marc F. Matarazzo, an orthopedic surgeon and orthopedic sports medicine practitioner with the Center for Bone and Joint Surgery in Port St. Lucie, on how to avoid pickleball injuries.

The Risks of Pickleball

Pickleball is a blend of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, played on a smaller court. The game involves a lot of stopping, starting, and quick movements that can put hips, legs, ankles, and feet at risk. Abrupt movements can strain the calf or Achilles, causing the ankle to roll and ultimately leading to back and leg injuries.

Common Injuries from Pickleball

According to Dr. Matarazzo, sprains, strains, and fractures are the most common injuries seen in his practice. His practice is predominantly knees and shoulders, so he sees a lot of injuries like rotator cuff strains, bicep tendonitis, tennis elbow, aggravation of knee arthritis, meniscus tears, MCL strains, wrist, ankle, hamstring, and Achilles’ strains. A report in the Journal of Emergency Medicine estimates that there are about 19,000 pickleball injuries per year, with 90% of them affecting people 50 or older.

Guidelines to Avoid Pickleball Injuries

The USA Pickleball Association offers the following guidelines to help reduce the risk of injury:

  1. Be aware of your playing area and its obstacles.
  2. Avoid backpedaling on the pickleball court.
  3. Stretch and warm up your body before you play.
  4. Wear proper court shoes, eye protection, and use appropriate equipment.
  5. Improve your balance and learn how to fall without injury.
  6. Wear sunscreen and a hat when playing outdoors.
  7. Avoid wet pickleball courts.
  8. Hydrate.
  9. Work with a professional to improve your fundamentals.
  10. Know your body and give it some rest.
  11. Communicate with your partner to avoid confusion.
  12. Have a plan in case of an emergency on the court.

Tips from Dr. Matarazzo:

Dr. Matarazzo stresses the importance of getting your heart rate elevated before the game. Take a jog or do jumping jacks for five minutes to break a sweat. The warm-up will increase your ability to perform the stretching exercises. You need to do a whole-body warm-up and not just focus on the legs and arms.

“That being said, flexibility and stretching are imperative," says Dr. Matarazzo. "For upper extremities, rotator cuff strengthening and shoulder stabilization programs are very helpful. Forearm and wrist exercising can also help minimize injury. In the lower extremity, you would want to do core stretching for lower back and abdominals. You should strengthen your hip and groin adductors and stretch the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles."

Dr. Matarazzo stresses the importance of wearing eyewear and sunscreen to protect your eyes and skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays, wearing the correct shoes, and having the right equipment. According to the USA Pickleball Association, comfortable court shoes are a must. Typical sneakers and running shoes do not supply the right kind of support for the side-to-side movement of the sport. The proper paddle is also important, and people should go with a lighter paddle as heavier paddles can lead to tennis elbow.

Dr. Marc F. Matarazzo is a highly experienced orthopedic surgeon who earned his medical degree from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. After completing his general surgery internship and orthopedic surgery residency at the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University, now known as Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, he went on to complete a sports medicine and arthroscopy fellowship at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

During his fellowship, Dr. Matarazzo served as the assistant team physician for the New York Jets, the New York Islanders, and the Hofstra University and Hunter College athletic departments, gaining invaluable experience in the diagnosis and treatment of sports-related injuries.

Today, Dr. Matarazzo is accepting new patients at the Center for Bone and Joint Surgery in Port St. Lucie. As a highly skilled orthopedic surgeon, he is dedicated to helping patients achieve optimal musculoskeletal health and function, and he provides a wide range of treatments for conditions affecting the bones, joints, muscles, and tendons.

To schedule a consultation with Dr. Matarazzo, patients can visit the Center for Bone and Joint Surgery in Port St. Lucie, located at 582 NW University Blvd. Suite 100. They can also call the office at 561-798-6600 to make an appointment.

** Photo Credit: Joshua Kodis