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Don't let pickleball injuries sideline you

Learn how to stay safe on the court and out of the doctor's office.

September 15, 2023

Alexis Morrow had never played pickleball before, but was excited to try her hand at America’s fastest-growing sport when a friend invited her at a community court in northeast Houston.

Within 30 minutes of picking up a paddle, Morrow, a regularly active 30-year-old with a passion for running, heard a discerning pop in her knee. She completely tore her ACL and meniscus.

Pickleball is a cross between tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong. It has become a huge trend in recent years, with more than 36.5 million players picking up the sport last year alone, according to a CNBC report by the Association of Pickleball Professionals. But, as it continues to soar in popularity, the sport is also taking a toll on players’ wrists, knees and shoulders.

"In the last three to six months, I've seen at least two to three pickleball injuries per week," says Dr. Ronak Patel, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Texas Orthopedic Hospital, who treated Morrow in June.

Alex Morrow and her dog.
Alexis Morrow, one hour before playing pickleball for the first time.

Pickleball may seem harmless because of its silly-sounding name, but it can be a demanding sport for players at any age, Dr. Patel says. With its quick stops and starts, and lunging and twisting, it's especially hard on seniors who have taken a liking to the sport because of its accessibility and reputation for being low-impact.

“It's actually kind of remarkable that we have patients in that age group who are doing this kind of sport, so that's a great thing,” says Dr. Patel. “But having known that, these patients are already more active and have had other injuries, and they're a little bit more prone to exacerbating some of these injuries.”

Pickleball injuries are typically the result of a fall or stumble, or from overuse injuries that build over time. Knowing how to stay safe on the court is key to injury prevention, Dr. Patel says.

How to avoid pickleball injury

The most common injury Dr. Patel sees is lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as 'tennis elbow' and now ‘pickleball elbow.' It is typically caused by overuse of the forearm muscles, which can lead to pain, micro tearing, inflammation and weakness.

For players who experience minor sprains and strains courtside, Dr. Patel recommends using the RICE method, which stands for rest, ice, compress and elevate. For more serious and persistent injuries, such as the one Marrow experienced, seek prompt medical care from an orthopedic or sports medicine specialist.

HCA Houston physician Ronak Patel.
Dr. Ronak Patel, orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Texas Orthopedic Hospital.

Since her pickleball injury, Marrow has undergone surgery to reconstruct her ACL. With a 6 to 9 month estimated recovery time frame, she attends physical therapy twice a week and uses crutches to get around. She says she is looking forward to the day she can bend her knee fully, though admits she does not see any more pickleball in her future.

"To reduce the risk of injury, eat well, hydrate, and do warmup and cool-down exercises before and after playing," Dr. Patel says. He added performing strength training and conditioning exercises for injury-prone areas of the body, such as shoulders, hips and quad muscles, can also help prevent injury.

September 15, 2023

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