Pickleballs don’t bounce

Pickleball, like any sport, comes with the opportunity for great fun, expanded friendships and the chance to get a little exercise. This said, as an orthopaedic surgeon, I believe it may perhaps be wise to consider a little forethought before turning in your yoga or tai chi practice for a chance to head for Wimbledon or the national pickleball championships! I’m not saying don’t play, I’m just saying please take a moment to think about the differences as well as similarities in the games of tennis and pickleball, and how you might modify your playing style as well as your pregame routine for both of these racquet sports. What seems like an informal version of tennis, turns out to be a sport with hidden surprises.
Pickleball by its very nature, and due to the logistics of the equipment as well as size of the court, entails explosive movements, from dead stop to full speed running, aggressive lunging, awkward bending and scooping to connect with the ball, and aggressive stretching as well as outward reaching, all things the body does not generally take kindly to. What seems a much more friendly and kinder form of tennis turns out to be a deceptively equally challenging sport.
I’m writing this article because I have seen a significant number of pickleball injuries especially involving the neck, shoulder (rotator cuff and AC joint tears and separations), Achilles tendon strains, tears and ruptures, fractures, falls and ligament injuries to the arm, hand, and wrist. My colleagues are seeing increasing knee and ankle injuries as well. These are not just in people who thought it would be an easy sport, “the above 50 crowd”, but rather in people who are young, athletic, many accomplished tennis players and several professional athletes and performers.

What’s deceptive about pickleball and
why is it good to consider a bit of caution:

What’s deceptive is that this is not tennis, the pickleball itself is not meant to fly nor bounce, it hits the ground and its momentum is deadened as soon as it hits the court. This means that in order to get to that shot the player has to aggressively run forward toward the ball or in whatever direction the ball is landing.
This means that aggressive use of the upper body in swinging and aggressively hitting something that is much lighter than a tennis ball, coming at you with less force than a tennis ball, resulting in excessive straining and overstretch of the shoulder, rotator cuff muscles and ligaments of the arm on the ball return.
This means that in order to get a shot which is not bouncing high up from the ground you have to stretch further and bend further down, causing undo stress on the neck and lower back, as well as also the need to bend the knees further. This is often an awkward position ergonomically, especially when aggressively running toward a ball. This can also result in falls, even more so if this court is slightly slippery or footwear does not gain appropriate traction.
In swinging more aggressively and in the smaller space, when playing doubles, the chances of being impacted by your partner’s racket are much higher, in fact collisions and accidental racket assaults do occur.

What can you do to safely prepare for a Pickleball game:

1. For starters, stretch before you play. Getting the body warmed up is good for any sport and is even more important for pickleball. Stretching arms, shoulders, lower back and especially your rotator cuff, achilles tendons, elbows, wrists, lower back and neck with flexion, extension and rotation exercises allows your body to be stretched out and not cold. Cold tendons do not like to aggressively and explosively stress or stretch. When this happens tearing can occur, either partial or complete. This problem is most common at the rotator cuff and achilles tendon.

2. Play the game as it was conceived, as a slower and more low-key form of tennis. Of course, many people who play games play competitively and I understand this. On the other hand, focus on form, placement shots and sometimes, let one go… it’s better than being out for 6 months in a sling, cast or boot – or worse, having surgery.

3. Exercise is supposed to be fun! Find a style that feels right for your body, makes you feel good afterward and something you see people doing in their 80’s and 90’s… this tells us something. Consider Yoga, Tai Chi, walking, Pilates, stationary biking, treadmill or swimming – think non-pounding activities that do not put undue stress on the joints and ligaments of the body.

4. Lastly, consider this. Simply visualizing exercise while meditating has been shown to have almost 80% the effectiveness of actually doing it, so take it easy, have some fun and for goodness sake, be careful!

Neck free shoulder system
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