Sonny Hodge, MD

Pickleball was once regarded as a “game for gramps” but is now the fastest growing sport in the United States for the fifth consecutive year. If you’ve ever experienced the rush of a good volley standing near the “kitchen”, then you can understand why! If still waiting to try, there are plenty of options at courts around the Mobile Bay area.  Pickleball is marketed as a low impact, joint-friendly sport, but can quickly lead to injuries due to the fast pace of play and many of the same explosive moves as tennis.  While most Urgent Care visits are by those over 50, younger athletes are not immune from strains and sprains or even fractures.

What Are the Most Common Pickleball Injuries?

  • Lower-extremity muscle strains – Primarily to the calf, quad, hip, or hamstring. These can be significant but usually resolve with appropriate rest and rehab.  
  • Foot and Ankle Injuries – Primarily related to ankle sprains. Achilles tendon injuries can occur as well both from overuse or a sudden injury causing a potential tear. Ankle sprains usually get better with rest and rehab. Sometimes braces are required for prevention of future ankle sprains. Achilles tendon injuries sometimes require surgery but can also be treated non-operatively in certain situations using rest and rehab and other modalities such as Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP). This treatment speeds the tendon’s healing process.
  • Knee Injuries – Meniscus injuries are the most common and may require surgery if rehab doesn’t improve pain and function. Less common injuries include ligament tears, particularly the ACL.  
  • Shoulder and Elbow Pain Primarily related to rotator cuff muscle injuries either with a strain or tear. Shoulder impingement is another overuse injury. Physical therapy is typically successful, while tears may require surgery. Elbow pain can be caused by tendonitis of the forearm and triceps muscles. Sometimes steroid or PRP injection can be provided to speed recovery.
  • Low Back Pain – Common complaints related to back pain include muscle strains. Disc issues in the lower back can be a culprit as well. Both are usually treated well with rest and rehab. Stress fractures can also be a cause of pain, particularly in younger female athletes.

Osteoporosis and Falls

Falling after an awkward move means a player is likely bracing on their hand as they land. That sudden pressure can create fractures to the Radius bone in the wrist – one of the more common injuries we find among pickleball players.  Osteoporosis creates additional risk of fracture from falls.   Depending on the severity, either surgery to provide proper alignment and stability or casting will be needed.

Clearly, pickleball comes with all the fun but also many of the same injuries all sports provide.  Consider a lesson if you’re a beginner, and always include a good warmup and cooldown routine.  Most injuries will improve with rest, Tylenol, and anti-inflammatories.   

Dr. Sonny Hodge is a Fellowship-Trained orthopaedic physician, with a focus on primary care sports medicine. He sees patients of all ages, including youth, high school and college athletes, weekend warriors and active seniors.

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