If you haven’t heard of pickleball, you are definitely in the minority. With nearly five million people currently playing the sport in the U.S., it is America’s fastest-growing sport. One reason for the 40 percent growth between 2019 and 2021 is that it is relatively easy to play, at least as a beginner. We love that the sport is providing an opportunity for more people to be active and compete for fun, but we are also starting to see pickleball-related foot and ankle injuries. Whether you are an avid player who is starting to feel pain in your feet or ankles or a newbie who wants to get off on the right foot, our sports medicine specialists are here to help.
What Is Pickleball?
In case you are among the handful of people who haven’t heard of pickleball or you’ve heard the name but don’t know what it is, here’s a brief introduction. Despite its recent explosion, pickleball was actually invented on Bainbridge Island, WA, in the 1960s. It is believed that the name came from the inventor’s dog, Pickles, who would retrieve balls for his family.
Similar to tennis, it is played on a badminton-sized court with a modified tennis net and paddles that look like oversized ping-pong paddles. The balls are plastic with holes in them, much like a Wiffle ball. It can be played as singles, but doubles games are much more popular, especially in competition. It’s easy for a beginner to get started—all you need are a paddle, a ball, and a tennis court—but leagues, tournaments, clubs, sponsors, and investors are turning it into a highly competitive sport for some.
Pickleball Foot and Ankle Injuries
The injuries that are starting to arise among “picklers,” as they’re called, are naturally similar to tennis injuries. However, because there are so many new players, and 60 percent of serious competitors are over the age of 55, pickleball injuries are becoming far more common than tennis injuries. Foot and ankle injuries we expect to see include:
- Achilles tendinitis. Picklers who play several times a week are at risk of developing this repetitive-stress injury. The quick side-to-side motions and back-and-forth sprinting required of the game put stress on the Achilles tendon and can cause inflammation and pain. Pre-game stretching and taking a day off when you feel pain can alleviate the condition.
- Achilles tendon ruptures. These tears can happen to any player but are most common in people who are less active and fit and go all out in a game. A rupture can occur while falling or tripping on the court. The pain is sudden and severe and should be evaluated by a specialist as soon as possible. Complete tears will likely require surgical repair.
- Ankle strains and sprains. With the quick movements required to get to the ball, rolling the ankle is a common injury. When the outside ankle ligaments are stretched or torn, you will lose ankle stability and are at risk of repetitive ankle injuries. Warming up adequately, wearing supportive shoes, and being fitted with a functional ankle brace can help.
- Plantar fasciitis. Pounding your feet on the hard pickleball court playing surface can cause heel bruising and stress the plantar fascia along the bottom of your foot. Stretching and rest can relieve the pain, but you might need a custom orthotic or heel cup to be able to continue playing without pain.
- Blisters. If you are getting blisters on your heels or bunions, you are probably not wearing the right socks and shoes. A blister can keep you off the court for days, so prevention is key.
As with any sport, wearing the right shoes is essential for injury prevention. You can now buy specific pickleball shoes, but any court shoe will do. Just make sure you have a good fit and talk to a podiatrist about a custom orthotic if you have any foot or ankle concerns at all.
Prevent a Pickleball Injury With Our Help
If you’re ready to give the hottest new sport in the country a try, talk to us about injury prevention. If you are moving up in the local pickleball league rankings and are starting to experience foot or ankle pain, the skilled podiatry team at Northwest Extremity Specialists can provide the relief you need. Call us at 503-245-2420 to make an appointment in the Portland-area office closest to you.