As pickleball popularity booms, doctors urge players not to ignore nagging injuries

ORLANDO, Fla. — Pickleball is (somewhat surprisingly) the fastest growing sport in the United States. A cross between tennis and ping-pong, pickleball has been sweeping the nation in recent years, with over 36 million Americans playing the game in 2022. From a health perspective, this racket/paddle sport in which either two or four players hit a plastic ball over a 36-inch-high net is a fantastic new way for many to stay in shape. However, new research warns players not to ignore any nagging injuries.

Pickleball’s name may be silly, and the activity itself isn’t exactly high-risk, but that doesn’t mean there’s no risk of getting hurt. As more and more doctors see patients with pickleball-related injuries, a new national survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults — conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Orlando Health — reports many Americans are likely to skip medical care for nagging sports injuries.

“Because pickleball is a relatively low impact activity, a lot of people think they won’t get hurt, but we’re seeing more and more people coming in with everything from broken bones and sprains to overuse injuries to the knees, shoulders and elbows,” says Luis Gandara, MD, a sports medicine physician at the Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute, in a media release. “Any injury that doesn’t seem to be getting better in a matter of a few days needs to be checked out by an orthopedic specialist to get a correct diagnosis and effective treatment.”

Older man battling shoulder pain, back pain, arthritis
(© dream@do – stock.adobe.com)

The survey also notes that while a full third of Americans (33%) report actively avoiding any sports or physical hobbies due to a nagging injury, about half (49%) agree it’s not worth seeing a doctor for a sports injury they believe will heal on its own. Dr. Gandara warns this type of mindset can end up exacerbating injuries in the long run, leading to more serious health problems that are more difficult to treat.

“Playing through an injury that doesn’t resolve with rest, ice and elevation causes that injury to become increasingly unstable,” the doctor explains. “If a patient comes to us right away, there is a good chance we can treat them with less-invasive options to help common injuries like a strained ligament, torn muscle or a hairline fracture heal. But if an injury is left to worsen over time without intervention, a patient is more likely to require surgery and a longer and more difficult recovery.”

The poll also reports 44 percent believe making a doctor’s appointment for an injury that is not too painful is “too much work.” Luckily, the Jewett Orthopedic Institute has opened several walk-in clinics in which patients can visit with an orthopedic specialist without making an appointment or having a referral. The hope is this approach will help more patients get the care they need both quickly and conveniently.

“Unlike going to the ER or an urgent care center, an orthopedic walk-in clinic is staffed with specialists who can assess sports injuries and immediately initiate effective treatment, whether that involves physical therapy and non-invasive treatments like injections or a same day referral to a specific type of surgeon,” Dr. Gandara adds.

Robbin Murray fell in love with pickleball about a decade ago. However, as she continued to play over the years on a more frequent and competitive basis, she began to develop issues with her knee that eventually became painful enough to keep her off the court.

“I was hooked right from the start and would play as much as I could, all day long, eventually traveling to compete in senior tournaments,” Murray comments. “It all added up and I started experiencing sharp pains that would take me down to the ground in the middle of a game.”

A woman hits a dink shot while playing pickleball.
(© Ron Alvey – stock.adobe.com)

Robbin worried she would need knee replacement surgery, but after consulting with Dr. Gandara, she’s been able to safely participate in the sport she loves again – and all while managing her injury in a proactive manner with a specialized brace, anti-inflammatory injections, and physical therapy aimed at strengthening and stretching the area.

In conclusion, Dr. Gandara encourages people to get out there and enjoy pickleball (or any other healthy activity they enjoy), but still emphasizes the importance of easing into any new activity. That means taking precautions like stretching, wearing supportive shoes, and listening to your body when a movement or motion doesn’t feel right.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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