At first glance, the game might look like any of its component parts from tennis, badminton and ping-pong. But for all its familiarity, pickleball is a unique sport that’s ideally suited for athletes of all ages.
What is Pickleball?
The game is played on tennis courts but requires only one-quarter the room. Unlike tennis, doubles and singles are played within the same lines. The game has its own language but is intuitive for people experienced with net and racket sports.
Invented 60 years ago by the dads of bored kids on Bainbridge Island, Washington, its mainstream adoption has boosted in the last few years.
In many ways, pickleball was the perfect sport at the perfect time, providing a social-yet-distant activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, an inexpensive form of entertainment where only shoes and a paddle are needed, and a sport that could be enjoyed by the entire family.
“COVID is believed to be one of the reasons pickleball has exploded in popularity, due to it being played mostly outdoors,” CORA’s Regional Sports Medicine Director Brent Huff said. “It helped keep many people moving and connected with their friends and families.”
According to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s report on pickleball, there are nearly 5 million pickleball players in the United States, growing at an average annualized rate of 11.5% over the last five years. The sport is just starting to spread overseas, capturing a massive international market.
Remarkably, the game’s most committed enthusiasts are baby boomers and aging generations, who represent 52% of the sport’s core players.
“Active lifestyles help combat aging in many ways, such as reducing stress, keeping muscles and joints moving, improving immunity response, boosting energy and stamina, improving sleep, and helping to maintain body composition. Those benefits are magnified with pickleball, which is not just for older generations. Many top pros are less than 25 years old, and a few are in their teens.”Brent Huff, Regional Sports Medicine Director at CORA Physical Therapy, Head Athletic Trainer to the APP
Trends in Pickleball
A new trend is that the sport is getting younger. The average age of players has now dropped below the age of 40. This trend is a result of promotional outreach by organizations like the Association of Pickleball Professionals.
“There is a huge social component to the sport,” CORA’s Director Sports Medicine and Community Outreach Bryan Anderson added. “It is not uncommon to see adolescent and teenaged players at tournaments. An active lifestyle is vital to our younger population remaining healthy as they age.”
“The best aspect of working with the APP Tour is the relationships we are able to create with the pros, of course, but even more so with the amateur players. The leadership of the APP Tour does an amazing job of promoting the sport and serving the entire class of players, both professional and amateur alike. Through this partnership, CORA is able to serve the entire pickleball community.”Bryan Anderson, Director of Active Tracks at CORA Physical Therapy
Huff agreed, saying: “The APP Tour is a fantastic organization that is growing the game at the grassroots level. CORA’s certified athletic trainers have forged relationships with players, referees, and volunteers. We have also had the opportunity to see how different facilities focus on pickleball. This gives our team much deeper insights into protecting players.”
While the nature of the sport keeps participants upright and healthy, there is risk associated with any athletic pursuit.
“With the growth of the sport’s popularity, we’ve seen an increase of acute injuries like sprained ankles, or falls resulting in sprained/broken wrists, as well as concussions. We also see chronic issues from our pickleball patients, including lower back tightness, shoulder pain, Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis.”Brent Huff, Regional Sports Medicine Coordinator at CORA Physical Therapy, Head Athletic Trainer to the APP
Pickleball Injuries & Prevention
Slips, trips, fall, strains, sprains and fractures are all potential hazards of the game. Take the following steps to minimize your risk of injury:
- Invest in the right equipment. While pickleball began with ping-pong paddles, the official equipment has evolved into longer, larger and squarer frames. Using a proper paddle gives you the reach you need to hit the whiffle-like ball back and forth with ease. Sneakers or tennis shoes are also strongly encouraged, preferably with arch and ankle support, and the stability for lateral motion.
- Stay limber, loose and upright. It’s important to prepare your body for any athletic competition. Pickleball is no different. Prioritize hydration and wear clothing that does not restrict your arm and leg movement. Before the match, be sure to stretch and warm up. Focus on sensitive areas like your shoulders, knees, ankles and hips. Lastly, keep a wide stance and don’t be afraid to let a tough shot go.
- Communicate and know when to call it quits. Whether you’re enjoying a singles or doubles match, keep the lines of communication open. There is a higher risk of collision with doubles games. Talk with partners throughout the match and avoid each other’s zone. If you feel fatigued, dizzy or dehydrated, take a break or hang it up for the day. The risk of all injuries increases with fatigue, and it’s not worth the trade-off for your health.
“The court is smaller, so there is less territory to cover, with less running and cutting overall,” Anderson explained. “The best part is that the more often you play, the more your reaction time and balance will improve. The best time to try the sport is right now.”
If you are a pickleball player there are ways to prevent injury, recover faster, and step up your game. We recommend finding a CORA Physical Therapy near you to ensure your body is ready to enjoy this great sport.
Is Your Body Ready for Pickleball?
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