Pickleball’s Hidden Dangers: Injuries on the Rise

Laurel Heilman, a seasoned coach with 25 years of experience in collegiate basketball, thought she had seen it all when it came to injuries. But now as a pickleball coach, she witnessed a shocking incident just three minutes into a class – a woman wearing slip-on sneakers fell and ended up needing hip surgery after an ambulance ride.

Despite its reputation as a low-impact sport, pickleball has seen a significant increase in serious injuries, mirroring its skyrocketing popularity (up 39.3% from 2000 to 2022). While it may seem surprising to outsiders, those close to the sport are well aware of the growing risk. As pickleball continues to gain traction, especially among older Americans, the need for proper training, equipment, and caution has never been more pressing.

Laurel Heilman, a pickleball coach, emphasizes that the sport requires proper preparation and training, unlike casual activities. “You can’t just show up and play without risking injury,” she warns.

Dr. Jonathan Hughes, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has seen a significant increase in pickleball-related injuries over the past year. He notes that many players, especially those who are new to sports or older adults, lack the necessary coordination and balance, leading to falls and injuries.

As pickleball’s popularity grows, players need to acknowledge the risks and take steps to prevent injuries, such as warming up, wearing proper gear, and learning proper techniques. Heilman and Dr. Hughes urge players to approach pickleball with caution and respect for the sport’s demands.

Dr. Jonathan Hughes, an orthopedic surgeon, has witnessed firsthand the devastating injuries that can result from pickleball. Achilles tendon ruptures and rotator cuff tears are the most common injuries he treats, but he’s also aware of other issues like hand and wrist fractures, ankle sprains, and court stumbles.

Hughes disagrees with the “low-impact” label often associated with pickleball, citing the quick changes in direction, running, and pivoting required in the sport. “Pickleball is a moderate-level activity,” he emphasizes, highlighting the need for players to be aware of the potential risks and take necessary precautions.

The Need for Proper Training and Equipment

According to Heilman, retired players often spend hours on the court, reveling in the fun and excitement of the game. “They’re having so much fun, they forget about winning or losing,” she said. “They just can’t wait to come back and play again!”

While the long hours of play can lead to injuries, Heilman prioritizes safety in her coaching sessions, teaching players how to protect themselves and maintain a healthy level of fitness. By emphasizing safety and fun, Heilman helps players enjoy the game while minimizing the risk of injury.

Heilman’s pickleball classes in the South Hills focus on safe and effective techniques to enjoy the game without risking injury. She emphasizes the importance of proper footwork, encouraging students to use a “drop step” and turn to run instead of backpedaling, which can lead to balance loss and injuries.

Heilman prioritizes safety, reminding her students that it’s not worth risking injury for a single point. Her latest advocacy effort focuses on eye protection, highlighting the need for paddle companies to prioritize safety in their designs. By promoting responsible equipment design and proper playing techniques, Heilman aims to create a safe and enjoyable pickleball community.

Eye Injuries on the Rise

The pickleball community is taking safety to the next level! Social media groups are filled with photos of players sporting protective gear and sharing stories of close calls, highlighting the importance of eye protection. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has even weighed in, publishing an article urging players to wear eye protection. Heilman predicts that professional players will soon be required to wear eye protection, just like in racquetball.

And it’s not just about eye protection – proper footwear is also essential! Heilman advises against slip-on tennis shoes and hyper-cushioned running shoes, instead recommending true tennis shoes or pickleball-specific shoes that provide the necessary support and traction for quick movements around the court. By prioritizing safety and proper gear, pickleball players can enjoy the game with confidence and peace of mind.

The Importance of Warming Up and Cooling Down

Before hitting the court, a good warm-up is essential for injury prevention and peak performance! USA Pickleball’s latest data shows that players of all ages are joining the fun, with 18-24-year-olds making up the largest demographic. Even younger players can benefit from a warm-up, but for the 20% of players aged 55 and older, a longer warm-up is crucial.

Dr. Hughes recommends a minimum of 15-20 minutes of warming up, tailored to individual needs. An effective warm-up should include jogging or walking, stretching, and pickleball-specific movements like hand-eye coordination drills and shoulder exercises.

By warming up like the pros, players can prepare their bodies for the game and reduce the risk of injury. And don’t forget to cool down after playtime to keep your musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems happy!


Heilman sums it up perfectly: “Get in shape to play pickleball, don’t play pickleball to get in shape!” By prioritizing warm-ups and cool-downs, players can enjoy the game with confidence and optimize their overall well-being.

Dr. Hughes emphasizes that the recommendations are not meant to discourage people from playing pickleball, but rather to ensure that they can continue to enjoy the game safely. With 13.6 million Americans already playing, the benefits of pickleball are clear: moderate exercise, social camaraderie, and a fun way to get your heart rate up.

“The benefits absolutely outweigh the risks,” Hughes said. “It’s a great sport, and we just need to approach it smartly and responsibly.” By taking simple precautions and warming up properly, players can minimize the risk of injury and maximize the enjoyment of this fantastic game. So, keep on pickling!