Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America—and with good reason. It’s fast-paced and promotes muscle and cardio health, but it’s a lower impact sport than some others, such as basketball and tennis. Because it’s fun, healthy, and easy to learn, millions are enjoying the sport, especially middle-aged and senior players 50 or older. 

But while pickleball can be an entertaining and a social way to keep athletic as you age, it can also lead to a number of acute and overuse injuries to the ankles and feet, especially if you do not take preventative measures. How to prevent pickleball injuries

Understanding Pickleball

Pickleball is a cousin to tennis, badminton, and ping pong and involves a court, a net, paddles, and a wiffle ball. The courts are about half the size of a traditional tennis court, and the game can be played with two to four people. 

People who play pickleball find the smaller court size easier to maneuver, but the game still involves a significant amount of running and jumping, racket swinging, and quick directional changes. These movements can lead to repetitive use and overuse injuries or one-off falls and accidents. 

Getting in Shape to Play Pickleball 

While pickleball is an all-ages sport, it doesn’t mean that anyone should jump onto the court and start playing. If you’re older or have physical health concerns, consider a visit to your doctor to get you cleared before you play. 

It’s also important to build up to a full game, especially if you aren’t physically active or if you’re a senior. Start by hitting the ball around for 5-10 minutes, and then increase your play time until you feel comfortable.

If you need to get in better shape before beginning to play (or while you are building up to playing a full game), there are ways you can improve your general health to help prevent pickleball injuries. 

Playing Pickleball: Tips for Shaping up

  • Increase your cardio and overall strength by walking, hiking, or biking.
  • Increase flexibility by stretching or doing yoga daily. 
  • Increase your core strength with light weight lifting or ab exercises. 
  • Increase overall strength with lateral movements and body-weight exercises.

Discuss any new exercise program with your doctor. 

Warm-up and Cool Down

Perhaps the single best way to prevent pickleball injuries is by fully warming up before playing and cooling down after playing. 

If you don’t warm up before playing sports, your muscles may be cold and tight, and this can make you prone to injury. Warming up takes only about five minutes and involves a few stretches for your arms, legs, back, and neck, as well as a little cardio warm-up to increase your temperature and blood flow. 

Cooling down also takes just a few minutes and has some important benefits: It decreases your chance of injury, lessens muscle soreness, and promotes muscle health. Cooling down consists of another good series of all-body stretches and exercises that gradually slow your heart rate back to its resting state. 

Pickleball Footwear and Socks for Foot Health 

The footwear you choose for your pickleball games can reduce your chances of injury. Newer players may believe that wearing any type of athletic shoe is fine, but some choices are better than others. 

If you are going to play pickleball regularly, you may want to buy a pair of shoes made specifically for the game. These shoes provide stability during quick lateral movements, cushioning to minimize impact, and mesh to increase airflow. 

If you can’t afford this type of shoe, a regular pair of tennis shoes will work, as they are designed for a similar type of court play. However, running shoes and other types of athletic shoes are not designed for pickleball and aren’t optimal for serious play. 

Also, consider the type of court you are playing on when you choose your footwear. Some shoes perform better on outdoor courts, and others perform better on indoor wood surfaces. 

Socks also matter. Socks that provide support and compression can reduce your chances of injury, improve your circulation, and keep your feet healthy, so you can play pickleball for years to come. 

Common Pickleball Foot and Ankle Injuries 

According to a study in the 2019 Journal of Emergency Medicine, the number of pickleball injuries has been increasing, with an estimated 19,000 injuries per year. There are two major types of pickleball sports injuries: acute injuries and overuse injuries. 

Pickleball: Acute Injuries

Acute injuries happen all at once, often due to a fall or moving your body in an unnatural way. In pickleball, common acute injuries to the foot and ankle can include strains, sprains, fractures, bruises, and tears. If you suffer an acute pickleball injury, stop playing immediately and seek medical attention. 

Pickleball: Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries develop over time, especially if you aren’t warming up and cooling down, if you aren’t wearing the proper gear, or if you aren’t otherwise taking care of your body. Common foot and ankle overuse injuries related to pickleball include plantar fasciitis and stress fractures. 

Other Common Overuse Pickleball Injuries

  • Ankle strains and sprains
  • Foot strains and sprains 
  • Achilles tendon strains and tears 
  • Heel bruises, caused by overuse of the feet, improper footwear, or stress to the heel bone 
  • Ligament tears 
  • Foot and ankle fractures
  • Shin splints—pain in the shins that can occur due to repetitive activity and hard exercise
  • Stress fractures, cracks, or bruising of bones, often caused by repetitive movements

The Best Way to Prevent Pickleball Injuries 

  • Before playing pickleball, be sure to be in good general health, make regular visits to your doctor, and warm up your body directly before games. 
  • During pickleball play, wear the correct gear, know your limits, and stop playing immediately if you start to feel pain or suffer a fall or injury. 
  • After playing pickleball, engage in some cooldown stretches and exercises, care for any areas of soreness or injury, and take a break from playing if you notice an injury that isn’t going away with rest or at-home treatment. See a doctor with any concerns or pain. 

What to Do if You Get Hurt on the Pickleball Court 

Even when you take all precautions, accidents can still happen, and you can suffer foot and ankle injuries such as strains, sprains, and tears.

Whether you suffer an acute foot or ankle injury on the pickleball court or whether you’re noticing a growing problem due to overuse, talk to a Keller sports medicine podiatrist as soon as possible about your issue to help ensure you get the proper treatment, so you can get back on the pickleball court, racket in hand, as soon as possible.