Preventing Pickleball’s Most Common Injuries

There are many unlucky people out there who are unaware that pickleball exists. For those of you lucky enough to know about pickleball and, even better, for those of you who play pickleball, this blog post may be of great value to you.

When I mention the game to friends and peers of mine I commonly get a response along the lines of this: “you mean that game that all the old people play?”. Well, I guess there ARE people regularly playing pickleball who would consider themselves old. However, if you took the time to actually look into it, there are just as many pickleball players that range anywhere from 5 to 60 years of age. I’ve always told my patients that age is just a number as I’ve had 85 year old patients who live and act younger than patients that I’ve had in their 40’s. Mindset, perspective and the ability to remain active play MAJOR roles in maintaining one’s youth and vitality – regardless of their age.

That brings me to the beauty of pickleball. It’s an extremely fun but competitive game. The social aspect of it is incredible as it brings so many people together in a way that I haven’t seen in any other sport I’ve played. The game involves a variety of athletically demanding movements including running, cutting, twisting, jumping, reaching, swinging, diving and squatting. All of this is done while paying close attention to where the pickleball is and where it may end up next. It is an absolute blast to play but it can get very tiring and places a lot of demand on every part of your body if you’re playing it right.

Under compromised conditions (weakness, decreased mobility, poor balance, coordination deficits, lack of endurance, etc.), this strain can quickly lead to aches, pains and injury. The most common injuries I’ve seen pickleball players for include plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis and lower back pain. There are a wide variety of other conditions that can arise while playing, however, that involve everything from the head to the toes. Those who develop these conditions don’t just miss out on being able to play pickleball – but they miss out on being able to spend time with their friends and enjoy that social aspect of the game that is so extremely valuable to quality of life.

Want some GREAT NEWS?? Most injuries that are commonly suffered as a result of pickleball can be prevented if appropriate measures are taken. I will break down each of the specific conditions I mentioned above and then provide insight on how to prevent them. It should be mentioned, however, that many of these same principles apply to most any injury one can sustain while playing. So – let’s get to it, shall we?

PLANTAR FASCIITIS

Plantar fasciitis is a fancy term for inflammation of your plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a dense, thick band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot. Inflammation of this tissue is EXTREMELY PAINFUL and can get to the point that every step feels as if a nail is going through your foot. Imagine running with that going on – not fun. It develops due to a variety of anatomical, functional and behavioral factors that, when unaddressed, commonly lead to inflammation of the plantar fascia.

What are these anatomical, functional and behavioral factors? Well, let’s start with the anatomical factors first. Most patients I’ve seen who have developed plantar fasciitis present with a combination of poor core activation, weak hips, limited ankle mobility as well as tightness through their hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendon. Next – the functional factor. Every patient I’ve seen with plantar fasciitis present with abnormal walking/running mechanics (likely attributable to the anatomical issues mentioned above). Lastly – the behavioral factors. Most people who develop plantar fasciitis work a job involving standing up most or all of the day, commonly switch between high heels and flip flops, do not wear appropriate footwear in general and/or regularly participate in high-intensity athletic activity such as running or pickleball.

How do you prevent plantar fasciitis? Awareness is HUGE! Being aware of whether or not you participate in any of those behavioral factors mentioned above is key to preventing plantar fasciitis. The next step would be taking measures to limit these behaviors. But, what if you LOVE to play pickleball and don’t want to slow down? Stay tuned through the end of this blog post to find out how you can continue regularly playing pickleball without developing plantar fasciitis or many other painful issues.

ACHILLES TENDINITIS

Achilles Tendinitis is the medical term for inflammation of the Achilles tendon. This condition is characterized be extreme pain and tightness through your calf and into the back of your heel. It has been known to progress to tearing of the Achilles tendon if it isn’t properly addressed and this involves surgery and up to a year without any running. The causes for Achilles tendinitis are very, very similar to plantar fasciitis. The only real difference as to why someone may develop plantar fasciitis rather than Achilles tendinitis comes down to the flexibility of their calves, the amount of time they spend on their feet and whether or not they happen to have bone spurs on their heel that may be irritating the Achilles tendon. Otherwise – the reasons one may develop Achilles tendinitis are generally the same as plantar fasciitis.

Because the causes are very similar – the methods of prevention are very similar as well. Avoiding behaviors associated with increasing inflammation in the Achilles tendon (wearing high heels, wearing unsupportive footwear, prolonged time on your feet and regular participating on high-intensity activity) are great ways to prevent it. But, just as with plantar fasciitis, most of us who find so much joy in our ability to be active do not see limiting our activity level as a practical option. So, stay tuned until the end of this post where I explain how to prevent Achilles tendinitis without decreasing your activity level.

LOWER BACK PAIN

Ahhhh, lower back pain. The most common ailment experienced by the general public. The issue that has left millions upon millions of people over the years feeling helpless, frustrated and desperate for a solution. Pain and injuries occur in the lower back for a variety of reasons. First, it is a point of force transfer from the legs into the trunk and requires significant amounts of strength, mobility, control and stability to tolerate the demands placed upon it. Second, there are multiple different types of structures involved in the function of the lower back (hip joints, SI joints, spinal joints, hip musculature, core musculature, spinal musculature, all sorts of ligaments, nerves, discs…you get the picture). Third, people sit – A LOT – which causes weakness and dysfunction throughout the core and hips. The list goes on…

Specific to pickleball, however, the lower back becomes easily strained with the repetitive bending, reaching, jumping, twisting and overhead movements involved in playing the game. Injury to the lower back is even more likely under the compromised conditions mentioned previously (weakness, lack of mobility, etc.). I’m not sure if you’ve ever injured your lower back but, if you have, you can attest that it is extremely debilitating and does not pair well with getting out on the court and playing pickleball all morning or afternoon.

How can you prevent lower back pain, specifically lower back pain related to pickleball? The thing I tell all of my patients suffering from lower back pain is to monitor the amount of time they spend sitting. And, if they do have to sit for a prolonged period of time, perform isometric exercises involving the glutes and core musculature to prevent them from wasting away. This article demonstrates a few simple exercises that can be done in the comfort of your home or at your desk at work to accomplish this:

https://www.kelleyvargo.com/single-post/2018/08/02/5-Glute-Exercises-At-Your-Desk

Want a more tried and true method to ensure that you are able to play pickleball as much as you want, as hard as you want, with a significantly reduced risk of developing debilitating lower back pain? That leads me to the next section of this blog post…

PREVENTING PICKLEBALL THESE ISSUES – AS WELL AS MANY OTHERS..

GOOD NEWS – there are ways to work around regularly playing pickleball but still prevent plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, lower back pain and a wide variety of other common ailments throughout the body. This comes down to correcting your walking/running mechanics, posture (sitting/standing) and self-awareness while also restoring your strength, mobility, balance, coordination, endurance and stability to points at which your body can tolerate regular pickleball playing without any adverse reactions.

A thorough assessment of your entire body in regards to all of the elements mentioned above by a doctor of physical therapy can provide you with the most effective, custom-tailored plan to keep you out on the court, pain-free and playing better than you could have ever imagined.

As The Pickleball PT, I offer completely FREE assessments to pickleball players in Sarasota and the surrounding areas. Keeping as many pickleball enthusiasts on the court and out of pain is what I hope to do and that starts with offering these free assessments to anyone interested. Most people who suffer an injury could have prevented it if they were aware of the many problems and issues that go unnoticed until it is too late. If you’d like to become aware of any such potential issues then please reach out today to schedule your free assessment! I am a mobile provider so I conveniently come to you and bring all equipment necessary to conduct the assessment. Weekend and evening hours are available. No referral is necessary to take advantage of this service today!

Call or E-Mail me, Dr. Frank Allen, at your convenience using the methods of contact below:

Cell: (904) 537 – 0301

E-Mail: frankallen@YourPlacePT.com