In a mad rush toward the ball, your partner crashes into the kitchen, collides with the net, and ends up with their back on the ground, groaning…Under the best of circumstances, they had a safe fall and managed to get off with only a scraped knee. Under the worst of circumstances, YOU are the one careening toward the net and pickleball injuries can be painful and long-lasting, if not permanent.
I’ve been asked a lot lately whether I have any tips on how to avoid pickleball injuries.
That’s why I wanted to invest in finding some answers to this question, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what what my team and I have put together for you…
Of course, this advice is in no way intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
It also does not address treating injuries, but focuses on what you can do to keep from getting injured in the first place.
So many pickleball injuries that happen out on the court are a result of either playing beyond our limit (it’s the nature of the addiction!) or playing beyond our fitness level.
Here’s a little list to help you determine how well you take care of yourself currently and what you could be doing better to keep your body healthy.
(Maybe it’s my “Virgo” nature that is so focused on caring for others that I put my own needs to the side, but the last part of #3 is my biggest challenge and Wendy is constantly on my case about it.)
How many of the following 12 statements can you (honestly!) agree with?
- I am aware when I am too exhausted to play safely and stop playing before I am wiped out.
- I usually feel good after my regular pickleball routine and don’t need more than a day to rest and “recover.”
- I don’t have any injuries or I take extra care of my injuries by resting, icing, supporting them.
- I pay attention to my major joints and make sure to stretch them before/after the game (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, back/neck).
- I drink sports drinks, water or coconut water and have a banana/dried apricots or other means to restore my electrolytes.
- I make sure to keep myself hydrated.
- If I have a longer match on the court, I make sure to avoid any caffeinated drinks the day of the game.
- I always do at least 5 min warm up before the game.
- I keep myself fit by engaging in other activities (gym, jogging, cycling, yoga, dancing…).
- I can stand on one leg for 30 seconds.
- I avoid fast foods and make sure to eat wholesome meals, limiting sugar intake.
- I enjoy/have fun playing pickleball and most of the time leave the court in a good mood rather than angry, irritated, anxious or stressed.
If you are doing all of the above, give yourself a big pat on the back – you are taking excellent care of yourself – go drink your green smoothie and enjoy the yoga pose you just mastered. The rest of us will continue reading the article and hopefully put some good things into action to keep up with you. ?
#1: Know Your Limits (How Many Spoons Do You Have and How Can You Get More?)
Imagine that every morning when you wake up you are dealt a certain number of spoons, which represent your energy. Some people get lots of them, some – considerably less depending on the state of their health (chronic diseases, injuries…).
Every action you perform that day requires you to “spend” a certain number of spoons. Let’s say – you need to go to the mall and buy some shoes, which requires 10 spoons. If I had 100 spoons in the morning – I don’t mind giving away those 10 spoons and getting myself some shoes. But, if I only got 40 and I am planning to go play pickleball in the afternoon, which will cost another 25 spoons, I might consider postponing my mall trip to another day.
We can call it energy level or stamina.
How much of it do you have?
Are you aware how you spend it?
Do you go to the court and play like crazy for a few hours, but then you are wiped out for next 2 days? (Or are you one of those nuts who are either retired or pickleball-obsessed who plays all day, puts your feet up to watch a movie at night, and then goes out and plays all day again the next day?
Once you have clarity on those questions, think about how you can balance yourself better by pacing your physical activity, so instead of going “play a lot – wiped out – play a lot – wiped out”, you can go “play just enough – feel good – play just enough – feel good”.
Once you are aware of your spoons – you may ask, how do you get more of them?
Avoid Pickleball Injuries by Increasing Your Overall Wellbeing & Stamina
Here is another list of the general things you may want to be doing to increase your overall well-being and stamina.
- Get a “Tune Up” like you would for your car. Make sure all your mechanics are working – have your doctor or alternative medicine practitioner check your thyroid, adrenal glands, digestive system, any chronic illnesses, etc. – all of them use energy.
- Know your body and injuries and protect it. Use kinesiology tape, braces, anti-inflammatories or whatever your doctor recommends for old injuries and follow the following suggestions to avoid new ones.
- Cross train – it makes you stronger and more fit. Take on the exercise routine that you can build upon (jogging, bike, elliptical machine, gym, exercises in pool). Focus on strengthening exercises. Just playing pickleball may give you overuse syndrome.
- On the court if you have breaks between games – make sure you stay warmed and move around, don’t sit the whole time till the new game.
- Play on the pickleball court part of the time and drill part of the time.
- Get guidance – get a fitness trainer..
- Pace yourself, don’t play yourself too hard, too long for too many days in a row
- Rest – get a good night’s sleep, take naps and sit down and rest when you are tired.
- Eat good food – get a nutritionist/research whole food diets with more greens, fresh veggies and fruit. Eliminate white sugar out of the diet. Learn ways to balance your diet to maintain your blood sugars leveled throughout the day (trust me, your partner will appreciate this too – no mood swings!)
- Take care of the inner peace (parasympathetic nervous system) – meditate, pray, engage in joyful, calming activities.
#2: Keep Your Balance
I want to pay a little extra attention to #10, the importance of balance. You may have been surprised when I asked if you can stand on one leg for 30 seconds. Think about it: If you can’t stand on one leg easily for 30 seconds, you have a considerably higher risk of falling in normal activities and more so in pickleball. In fact, as we age, our brain can actually start to forget exactly which muscles to activate in order to keep our balance. Since we are not off balance for most of a pickleball game, it is especially important to exercise your balance skills off the court so that they are primed for those times when you need them on the court.
You can incorporated balance exercises into your warm up or fitness routine (steps 12-14 in the routine above) or do it at home. It can be as simple as standing on one leg while brushing your teeth and alternating legs as you switch sides of your mouth. If you want more challenge, you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed (make sure you hold on to a chair or another object and let go only if you feel comfortable enough to avoid falling).
#3: Warm Up
While I often struggle to rest an injury as much as I should, one thing I am very consistent about is warming up before playing.
For those of you who hesitate to warm up before playing pickleball because you are afraid you’ll get too tired out, here is a great explanation of the physiological benefits of warming up (from this article on active.com).
Relaxed, sitting in your chair and reading this column produces a relatively low 15- to 20-percent of blood flow to your skeletal muscles. Most of the small blood vessels (capillaries) within those muscles are closed. After 10 to 12 minutes of total body exercise, blood flow to the skeletal muscles increases to some 70 to 75 percent and the capillaries open.
Along with more blood flow comes an increase in muscle temperature. This is good because the hemoglobin in your blood releases oxygen more readily at a higher temperature. More blood going to the muscles, along with more oxygen available to the working muscles, means better performance.
An increase in temperature also contributes to faster muscle contraction and relaxation. Nerve transmission and muscle metabolism is increased, so the muscles work more efficiently.
While warming up you should consider your whole body and mimic the moves you make in pickleball. It should last 5 to 10 min. A good warm up for pickleball might be a brisk walk, a light jog around the court a couple times, riding a bike or drilling. Once your heart rate, breathing, and body temperature have increased, take a few minutes to stretch your shoulders, neck, back, hips, knees, and ankles.
Here’s one warm up routine you might try, which includes the major joints and muscle groups.
- Start by lightly jogging around the court for at least 60 seconds.
- Then do the following walking exercises using the length of the court
- Walk tip toe-ing with your toes pointing in
- Now walk tip toe-ing with your toes pointing out
- Walk on your heals with your toes pointing in
- Walk on your heals with your toes pointing out
- Chest Hug – Walk slowly lifting each knee towards the chest to hug
- Quad Stretch – Walk slowly pulling each heel towards your behind using your hands to pull it closer
- Hamstring Stretch – Walk slowly and with every step forward reach out to touch your front toes with the opposite hand – lift your toes off the ground if you can.
- Step forward into a lunge (make sure your knee is straight above the ankle, not in front of it) and twist your torso toward the forward leg
- “Run” by kicking forward while keeping your legs straight – start with very small kicks and increase the height of the kicks and the speed toward the end
- Walk backwards slowly (and carefully!)
- Do sideways steps or sideways squats
- Balance on your right leg with the left leg out behind you in the air. Pick up a pickleball from the ground. Alternate legs. Repeat 5 times or more on each leg. If it feels too advanced, start by balancing on one leg for 30 seconds. Then alternate. Find a bench or fence for support if needed.
- Turn your head left and right.
- Roll your shoulders back and front.
- Move your hips in circles to stretch them out and get the blood flowing.
Remember that anything new, including new shoes a new paddle, or even a new pair of socks may require your body to adjust, so be ready for that and pay attention. (Be on the look out for any pain in your wrist or elbow when using a new paddle, watch your ankles and knees with the new shoes, and hot spots that might develop into blisters with new socks.)
So I hope this article has been helpful for you.
Now, it’s side out and over to you.
Which of these ideas and tips are you already actively using? Which were new ah-ha’s for you? Do you have other questions or topics you’d like me to address in the future?
Scroll on down and post your comment below.