People around the country are playing pickleball – and many of them are getting injured. Exercise is an important part of aging well, and pickleball for seniors can be a great way to have fun while staying in shape – but if you do it wrong, you could cause more harm than good. Learn how to play safely.
What Is Pickleball?
According to USA Pickleball, pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. It’s easy to learn, but it can also be fast-paced and competitive, making it a good option for people of varying skill levels and athletic abilities. To play, you need a pickleball court with a net, a paddle for each player and a ball.
Pickleball’s Surge in Popularity
In recent years, pickleball has become hugely popular. According to CNBC, research from the Association of Pickleball Professionals shows that more than 36.5 million people played pickleball in 2022. In 2021, only 5 million people played, so this is a huge increase. The sport has even attracted the attention of star athletes, including LeBron James and Tom Brady.
Pickleball has been especially popular with older adults. According to Pickleball Union, 52% of pickleball players are 55 or older, and 32.7% are 65 or older.
Is Pickleball Safe for Seniors?
Many details of pickleball make it an excellent choice for seniors. According to the Medical University of South Carolina, pickleball is played on a smaller court than tennis, which means players don’t have to run as far. As a result, pickleball requires less exertion and may be easier on the joints. Additionally, the ball is soft and light, which means it’s not likely to cause serious injuries if it hits someone, and it doesn’t move too fast, which is good for people with slower reflexes.
However, any sport can lead to injuries, and as pickleball’s popularity has surged, the injuries associated with pickleball have also skyrocketed. According to Forbes, Americans are expected to spend $250 million to $500 million in costs connected to pickleball injuries in 2023.
According to the UPMC HealthBeat, pickleball injuries are usually mild, but they can occasionally be serious. Common injuries include wrist fractures, heel bruises and strains and sprains impacting the ankle, Achilles tendon, knee, hamstring, groin, quad or shoulder.
It’s smart to consult your doctor before beginning any new form of exercise. This may be especially important if you have health conditions that could put you at risk of falls, broken bones and other serious injuries.
What to Wear for Pickleball
It’s more than just fashion. What you wear when you play pickleball can impact your health and safety.
- Wear clothes that allow movement. You’ll be very active, so you want stretch material and clothes that allow movement.
- Wear the right clothes for the weather. Howdy Health has recommendations on what to wear when exercising in hot or cold weather.
- Wear good shoes. The National Institute on Aging recommends looking for shoes with flat, non-skid soles, good heel support, a cushioned arch and enough room for your toes. Make sure they fit well and provide proper support, and replace them when the tread is worn.
Should You Stretch Before Pickleball?
Strains and sprains are common pickleball injuries, so you might be tempted to stretch before playing to avoid these injuries – but watch out. Stretching the wrong way, or at the wrong time, could actually contribute to injuries.
Medline Plus says you should stretch at least two times a week to stay flexible, although it’s not clear whether this helps reduce injuries. Never bounce while stretching, don’t hold your stretches for more than 15 to 30 seconds and do NOT stretch cold muscles. Mayo Clinic suggests doing stretches after the warm-up or cool-down phases so your muscles will already be warm. In other words, you don’t want to start stretching first thing.
There are also different types of stretches. WebMD says dynamic stretches can mimic the movements you’ll make while playing a sport, but with less intensity. Dynamic stretches include things like walking lunges and seated shoulder stretches. See WebMD for details on how to do stretches correctly.
Staying Safe While Playing Pickleball
While you’re having fun playing pickleball, don’t forget to think about health and safety.
- Warm up. The Mayo Clinic recommends warming up by doing the activity and the movement patterns at a slow pace.
- Make sure the court is safe. Hazards such as rocks, litter, ice, or puddles could cause slips, trips or falls. Clear the hazards if possible. If you can’t clear the hazards – for example, if the entire court is wet from a recent storm – it’s probably best not to play.
- Stay hydrated. Mayo Clinic says it’s important to drink water before, during and after a workout that causes you to sweat.
- Know your limits. If you have health problems or you aren’t used to exercising, talk to your doctor to determine how to start playing safely. You may need to start out slow. If you start to feel unwell while you’re playing, take a break or stop playing for the day.
- Check the weather. Very hot or humid conditions could increase the risk of heat-related illness, so it may not be safe to exercise outdoors. The CDC has more information on the signs of heat-related illnesses and how to respond
- Look out for your partner. If your partner shows signs of feeling unwell, suggest a break and make sure they’re OK.
How to Start Playing
If you want to start playing pickleball, now is a great time. With so many people becoming interested in the sport, you should have no trouble finding a court and people to play with.
- Learn the rules. The rules are easy to learn. You can read a quick overview at USA Pickleball.
- Get your equipment. You’ll need a pickleball and a paddle. Your partner will need a paddle, too, so if you want to invite friends to play for the first time, you might want to pick up two, and you should probably get a couple of balls in case you lose one. You can buy a pickleball set to get everything you need at once.
- Find a court. Because the game has become so popular, there are many pickleball courts throughout the country. To find a court near you, use the USA Pickleball Places2Play search.
- Find a partner. If you don’t know anyone who plays, ask people if they want to learn it with you.
Pickleball for Seniors
Pickleball is a great way for seniors to stay active and healthy. It’s also a good way to socialize with others. You need to be careful about the injury risks, but that’s true of any type of exercise. If you’re worried about your health and safety, talk to your doctor about your concerns.
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