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Prevent the most common pickleball injuries with these 5 simple exercises

Do these 5 exercises for injury prevention

A person playing pickleball.
Ron Alvey / Shutterstock

Pickleball is a racket sport that combines elements of other similar sports, such as badminton, ping-pong, and tennis. Players use paddles to hit a hollow plastic ball over a net until someone fails to return the ball to the other player. Its derivative yet simple design makes it a popular sport for people of all ages — and the fastest-growing sport in the U.S.

Just as the popularity of pickleball increases, so too does the frequency of injuries commonly occurring with pickleball and other sports. The strenuous nature of this activity and its frequent, repetitive movements make these injuries almost unavoidable. Since you can’t get around having to make these movements, the best thing you can do is prevent pickleball injuries from happening in the first place through certain exercises.

Below are five of the most common injuries associated with this sport, each accompanied by a specific exercise that can help prevent them.

A player getting ready to play pickleball.
Joan Azeka / Unsplash

Pickleball Elbow

This is essentially the same as what some athletes refer to as the common tennis elbow — pain over the exterior part of the elbow that can possibly extend to the forearm. This comes from the repeated wrist extensions involved in pickleball, such as holding and swinging the paddle; having to do it constantly is essentially overusing the associated muscles. As a result, you may experience soreness in this area if you overuse the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) tendon.

Thus, strengthening your forearm muscles allows for better resistance to exertion from the sport’s repetitive movements. Some resistance training exercises with weights that specifically target your forearm muscles can certainly help, such as the one below.

Wrist curls

Instructions:

  • Sit on a chair with a light dumbbell (1-pound weight is recommended).
  • Rest your forearm on the edge of a flat surface (e.g., a table); your wrist should be hanging over the edge while holding the dumbbell with your palm facing upward.
  • Slowly raise and lower your hand, keeping your forearm against the flat surface.
  • Repeat for ten reps.
A group of people playing a game of pickleball.
Lesli Whitecotton/Unsplash / Unsplash

Wrist strain

Since you’re constantly flexing or extending your wrist to swing a paddle, it is very likely that you will experience strain in that area. Similar to pickleball elbow, pain in your wrist after playing pickleball is caused by overuse of the associated muscle. The only difference is that your wrist muscles are affected instead of your forearm muscles.

Because both wrist strain and pickleball elbow are both in the same area and have the same causes, exercises to help with pickleball elbow can also help with this problem. However, it is best to use a lighter exercise if you’re trying to prevent wrist strain only.

Wrist extensor stretch

Instructions:

  • Extend the arm of your dominant hand in front of you with your fingers pointed toward the ground.
  • Use your other hand to bend your wrist further until you feel a mild stretch in your forearm.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds.
  • Repeat for two to four reps.

*Alternatively, you could also do wrist flexor stretches, which is the same except the palm of your dominant hand is facing opposite of you, and your fingers are pointed upward.

TB studio / Shutterstock

Lower back strain/pain

Pickleball can cause lower back pain or sciatica — a form of back pain radiating toward the legs — if you constantly rotate at the torso when turning to hit a ball. Frequent crouching and “dinking” (a movement in pickleball in which you stay low while moving side to side) are also likely culprits for lower back pain. Although it may not seem severe, lower back pain may also indicate other serious conditions exacerbated by pickleball.

Because you will need your trunk to frequently turn your body to hit the pickleball, it is important to strengthen your core to resist or reduce the effects of possible overexertion on your lower back.

Bird dog

Instructions:

  • Start on your hands and knees, with both directly underneath your shoulders and hips, respectively.
  • Engage abdominal muscles, then extend your left leg behind you and your right arm in front of you at the same time. 
  • Hold this position for 15 seconds, then slowly lower the raised leg and arm back into the starting position. 
  • Switch sides and repeat for the opposite arm/leg.
  • Continue altering sides for five reps on each side.
Person with ankle injury.
Kindel Media/Pexels

Sprained ankle

Among the most common sports injuries out there, the pain associated with acute ankle sprain is caused by overstretching or twisting certain ligaments in that area, leading to a tear in the tissue. This can occur while playing pickleball, as this sport requires you to constantly pivot while moving around the pickleball court. Trying to do almost any form of physical activity with a sprained ankle will prove to be a challenge as you would have to deal with pain and difficulty bearing weight.

Although sprains usually heal on their own, it is better to prevent them altogether by stretching and properly using your ankle muscles.

Ankle circles

Instructions:

  • Sit on a chair.
  • Lift one leg and slowly rotate your foot in 20-30 circles clockwise using your ankle.
  • Pause for a few seconds, then switch legs and rotate that foot for the same number of reps. 
Black man doing alternating forward lunges in front of a laptop at home.
Prostock-studio / Adobe Stock

Torn Achilles tendon

Located at the back of your ankle, the Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to the heel bone. Because pickleball requires you to do repetitive movements and sudden starts/stops, your Achilles tendon can become thicker and, thus, less flexible and more susceptible to rupture.

Thus, stretching your Achilles tendon will allow it to be more flexible even if your tendon thickens. Exercises that can strengthen the Achilles tendon can even go hand-in-hand with stretching your ankles since they’re in the same general area.

Runner’s stretch

Instructions:

  • Place your hands against a wall at eye level.
  • Take one leg and step behind you, making sure that your toes are pointed straight ahead.
  • Bend the knee of your other leg towards the wall while keeping your back leg straight.
  • Lean forward far enough that you don’t feel pain. A gentle stretching feeling in your calf is okay.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for three reps.

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