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Getting Ready to Play:
Be sure to have the proper shoes, ones that support your feet and are designed for court sports. Give any existing injury plenty of time and rest to heal before you resume play. Know how to get help quickly if you or a co-player are hurt or develop a medical problem. Is there a telephone or a first aid kit nearby? Do you have the phone number available of someone to call in case of emergency?
Be aware of any obstacles in the area that you might run into or trip over. Never play on a wet court. They are extremely dangerous. One way to check a damp court surface is to press your toe down firmly and make a twisting motion. If you leave an obvious “wet” spot it’s too wet to play. Check with your doctor regarding exercise and any physical conditions that exist or may have previously existed.
Injury Prevention is Key
Warm-up: The main purpose of a warm-up period is to raise the general body temperature prior to playing. When the body temperature is raised it will increase your ability to perform the stretching exercises. The warm-up period should be approximately 5 minutes. Try a fast walk to the pickleball courts, riding a bike or treadmill. These are just a few examples for a total body warm-up.
Stretching: Following the warm-up period, begin a stretching program. This will increase your flexibility, which allows for better performance and decreases the possibility of injuries. The muscles/joints that need to be stretched are: ankles, Achilles tendon, calf muscle, quadriceps (front of upper leg), hamstrings (back of upper leg), groin, low back, shoulder and arms. Start with the ankle stretch and work up toward the shoulder/neck area. For each muscle group, place that group on stretch. This is a point where you feel the stretch and hold it for 10-15 seconds. Relax, and repeat 3-5 times.
Eye Protection: While hollow and lightweight, the ball used in Pickleball is a hard polymer and can travel at a very high rate of speed. The use of proper eye protection is highly recommended for all players.
Learn to return lobs correctly. Never back up on your heels. Instead, turn around and go back to get to the ball. Serious head injuries can occur if you fall over backwards. During play, if pain occurs, stop playing and ice the area of pain. Continuing to play will likely aggravate your problem. Age, experience, physical condition and athletic ability will impact the level of your game. Don’t try to make plays beyond your abilities.
Cool Down. After playing, you may want to do a little stretching or take a slow walk home. This will help lower your body temperature and bring your heart rate slowly back to normal.
Common Pickleball Injuries:
Ankle Strain: A strain involves a ligament and most commonly occurs on uneven terrain, stepping on a stray ball or another player’s foot. The pain is usually felt on the outside of the ankle and there may or may not be immediate swelling. Swelling is not a sign of severity.
Achilles Tendon Strain: (back of the ankle) This involves a tendon or muscle group and the most common cause is a stop-and-go action or a sudden change of direction. This injury is very common in people over age 40. There is a sudden snapping feeling or a pain like being hit in the back of the leg. A rupture is obvious. There will be an indentation in the Achilles tendon area. The person cannot walk and needs immediate attention.
Heel Bruise: Pain occurs on the bottom of the heel with every step. This is considered an overuse injury and usually occurs over a period of time. The best treatment is rest and using a heel cup or donut during play.
Knee Strain: A sprain occurs by a twisting or rotation of the knee. The most common is a medial collateral sprain and the pain is on the inside of the knee, just to the side of the knee cap.
Hamstring, Groin or Quad Strain: The most common is a hamstring, generally caused by over extending or reaching to return a ball. Again, the most serious will show a sign of an indentation where the tear occurred.
Wrist Fracture: The most common cause is going backward for a ball, falling, and landing on an extended arm. Learning to roll out of a fall and not extending your arm to land can help avoid this injury.
Shoulder Strain: This is often caused by overuse, too many overheads, playing too long, etc. It can also occur on a single overhead smash where the rotator cuff muscles (top of the shoulder) are strained.
Ice Therapy: There is a misconception that you use heat for strains and ice for sprains. Not True! Use ice for all immediate treatment of injuries. Ice, compression and elevation should be used first for all injuries. Apply ice for a minimum of 15 minutes or until numb. Remove until the feeling is back and then replace the ice. Remember: ice, compression and elevation for a period of 24-72 hours. Heat?: Heat should never be applied immediately to an injury (sprains or strains). It should only be applied after 24-72 hours.
Professional Care: It is always best to seek the advice of a doctor for any injury, especially for fractures, head injuries, eye injuries, 3rd degree sprains and strains, etc. Call 911 for any serious injury.
Never start play without wearing prescribed braces or supports. Know your exercise limits and be sure to tell co-players what they are. If you have a history of heart problems, back pain, tennis elbow, breathing problems, etc. be sure you have any equipment or medicines at hand.