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Safely Navigating Pickleball: Understanding and Preventing Injuries

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As the popularity of pickleball continues to soar, so do the occurrences of injuries among players. Recent findings indicate a significant rise in bone fractures related to pickleball, with a staggering 200% increase over the past two decades.

Presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, an analysis of a comprehensive government injury database sheds light on the escalating trend. Pickleball, a sport played with perforated plastic balls and wooden paddles on a court similar to badminton's size, has seen a remarkable surge in participants. According to USA Pickleball, the number of players in the U.S. surged from 4.8 million in 2021 to 8.9 million in 2023.

Despite its growing popularity, pickleball isn't without its risks. While bone fractures are the primary focus of the recent analysis, numerous soft tissue injuries such as sprained ankles, knee injuries, rotator cuff injuries, Achilles tendon tears/strains, and foot fractures are also prevalent among players.

The majority of fractures, accounting for 92% in the study, occurred due to falls. It's a concern that demands attention, especially among enthusiasts. Yasmine Ghattas, lead author of the study and a medical student at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, stresses the importance of informed participation in any physical activity.

Personal experience prompted Ghattas and her fiancé to delve deeper into the topic. Regular players themselves, they noticed an increasing number of patients with pickleball-related injuries during clinical rotations, sparking their interest in conducting this study.

The analysis, drawing from the Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, identified 377 pickleball-related fractures between 2002 and 2022. Extrapolating this data suggests an estimated 5,400 pickleball-related fractures annually in the U.S.

Interestingly, while women, particularly those aged 65 and older, were more prone to fractures overall, men were 2.3 times more likely to be hospitalized due to lower-body fractures, such as those in the hip and femur.

Dr. Eric Bowman, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, highlights the necessity of proper preparation and education before engaging in pickleball. He emphasizes the significance of learning the mechanics and forms essential for performance enhancement and injury prevention.

Another study, co-authored by Dr. Bowman, unveils a concerning trend where pickleball-related injuries outpaced the sport's growth in popularity between 2017 and 2022. Soft tissue injuries remain the most common, with fractures and aggravated arthritis increasingly affecting individuals aged 60 and above.

Dr. Spencer Stein, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at NYU Langone Health, underscores the importance of precautionary measures before embarking on pickleball. From medical screenings for osteoporosis to warming up adequately and selecting appropriate footwear, proactive steps can significantly reduce injury risks.

Furthermore, mastering the art of falling safely is crucial. Dr. Stein advises players to learn techniques that minimize the risk of injury during falls, particularly for middle-aged women who may already be susceptible to bone loss.

In conclusion, while pickleball offers numerous health benefits and is considered a lower-impact sport, players must approach it with caution. By understanding potential risks and implementing preventive measures, enthusiasts can continue enjoying pickleball safely and sustainably.


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