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UBS Analysts Say Pickleball Injuries Will Cost $400 million. Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Pickleball Injuries & Prevention

by Kelly Campbell 

Last month, UBS analysts came out with a staggering statistic that pickleball injuries could cost Americans hundreds of millions of dollars this year. From coverage on CNN, Fox, Forbes, to CBS and more, this has been a hot topic that paints pickleball in a negative light, perhaps for the first time. 

Should pickleball players — especially those in higher age brackets, beginners, or those with injuries –– be concerned? Keep reading for more on what news outlets are saying about the new stat, everything you need to know about pickleball injuries and prevention, and hear from Seattle-based physical therapist, Jonmichael Salerno. 

More on the Stats – Pickleball Injuries Could Cost Americans Up To $400 Million 

In late June, UBS analysts reported that pickleball injuries will be responsible for around $377 million in medical costs. The report predicted 67,000 emergency room visits, 9,000 surgeries, and 3,600 outpatient visits for pickleball players. Analysts estimated that there were nearly 34,000 pickleball-related ER visits from 2010 to 2019 (when fewer people were playing pickleball than today). The study highlights that 60% of pickleball injuries were in the wrist, legs, head, and shoulders via sprains, strains, and fractures. 

Because of pickleball’s original reputation as a “retirement home sport”, a large senior player population, perhaps one that’s larger than any other sport, contributes to this statistic. According to a 2021 study, 86% of pickleball emergency room visits from 2010-2019 included players over age 60. 

“While we generally think of exercise as positively impacting health outcomes, the ‘can-do’ attitude of today’s seniors can pose greater risk in other areas such as sports injuries, leading to a greater number of orthopedic procedures,” UBS analysts said.

Dive into The Headlines – What Does This Mean For Pickleball?

Luckily, pickleball has typically always been well-received in the media to date. Most articles and topics surround pickleball’s unprecedented growth rate, exciting entertainment specials, new facilities, or new celebrity involvement in the sport. 

Pickleball has always been branded as an easy, accessible, lifelong sport. Does this new statistic threaten that status? We hope not, or at least know that it shouldn’t. As with any physical activity, there’s an injury risk. At first glance, these numbers seem like a lot, but if you consider pickleball’s incredible growth rate (more than 36 million people played from August 2021-August 2022, compared to 5 million overall players in 2021), and the high population of senior players, they make more sense contextually. 

We’re not any more concerned about pickleball injuries – and you likely shouldn’t be, either. What interests us more is how this statistic and conversation paint pickleball and whether or not it may discourage beginners from picking up a paddle. 

Hear from Jonmichael Salerno, Physical Therapist (PT), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) 

Although we know that pickleball is a relatively safe and accessible sport across age groups, it’s important to take precautions to avoid injury from any type of physical activity. We interviewed Jonmichael Salerno, PT, DPT about what he’s seen in the field surrounding pickleball injuries. Salerno is currently a sports physical therapist resident at MTI in Seattle, WA, and his tips will help stay safe and healthy while playing pickleball. 

What is your experience dealing with pickleball injuries? What are some commonalities you see surrounding patients and injuries?

My job includes performance rehabilitation which combines the rehab with functional sports-related movement through both manual therapy and coaching movement. In Seattle, located just a short ferry ride from Bainbridge Island, the birthplace of the sport, I’ve seen a growing number of injuries from new players.

In my experience, I commonly see both knee and elbow injuries for pickleball players. These injuries usually arise from patients with either a weakness or biomechanical restriction of joints –– usually the ankle or shoulder/neck –– despite most injuries occurring at the knee and elbow. 

What are the most common demographics you see come in with pickleball injuries? 

The most common people with pickleball injuries are both men and women between the ages of 35-50. 

In your opinion, is pickleball a dangerous sport?

In my experience, pickleball is not a dangerous sport. However, for new players, there may be an acclimation period if they find themselves playing regularly. Both poor mechanics and conditioning play a role in the incidence of injury.

What advice do you have for pickleball players looking to avoid injury? 

I would advise players to consider a dynamic warm-up prior to play to avoid soft tissue injuries. This includes training the rotator cuff, stretching the low back, pedaling on the stationary cycle, as well as performing mobility exercises of the foot and ankle. For those with a history of “tight” muscles consider static stretching following exercises for multiple sets adding up to 2 minutes.

For more on avoiding pickleball injuries, check out our past episode of “Stepping into the Kitchen: Injury Prevention.