Pickleball: Yay or Nay for Older Adults?

Have you caught Pickleball fever yet? It seems like it is spreading faster than COVID. Pickleball is an indoor or outdoor racket/paddle sport where two players (singles), or four players (doubles), hit a perforated hollow polymer ball over a 36-inch-high net using solid faced paddles. The two sides hit the ball back and forth over the net until one side commits a rule infraction. Although the sport has been around since the mid-1960s its rates of participation have grown significantly over the last few years–aided in no small part by the pandemic, which made outdoor activities more popular.

I have been interested in picking up the game myself even though I am not real good at sports that involve a ball; I am more of a runner, cyclist, fitness kind of guy. There are concerns, though, about how safe the game is for older adults like myself. According to a recent article in The New York Times, there were 19,000 pickleball injuries in 2017 (before the sport boomed), with 90% of those being over the age of 50.

The most common injuries are those related to the rotator cuff tendon in the shoulder according to the Baylor College of Medicine. Other injuries include miniscus tears, tendon ruptures, and exacerbation of arthritic knees. The best way to prevent injuries is to warm up before a game; such a warm-up should include some light cardio like jogging, cycling, or walking briskly to the point of a light sweat, as well as stretching. A cool down should include additional stretching. Of course, if there is soreness after playing, cold can be applied and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can be taken. If a condition persists, it is best to consult a medical professional.

All that being said, should older adults avoid pickleball? While 19,000 seems like a lot of injuries, it is well below other sports such as basketball or riding a bike (which is where most injuries are for those over 65), there are many advantages to pickleball. It is relatively easy to learn and more and more venues are available to play. It also has benefits for the cardiovascular system; it provides a good aerobic workout which can help lower reduce the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. Pickleball is great for boosting hand/eye coordination and can help with balance. Perhaps most important, Pickleball is fun and social; this means that participants enjoy the experience and are therefore more likely to stick with it, making the game part of a good strategy for senior fitness.

Will I give it a try? If the opportunity presents itself I will. I am aware of the risks and will take the appropriate steps to keep myself away from injuries. It sounds like fun and a great workout!

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