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Pickleball-related injuries are on the rise, doctors say

As pickleball’s popularity has skyrocketed, so have the number of serious injuries among players.

Pickleball-related bone fractures have increased 200 percent over the past 20 years, according to an analysis of a large government injury database presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Pickleball, played with a perforated plastic ball and wooden rackets on a badminton-sized court, is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, with the number of players increasing from 4.8 million in 2021 to 8.9 million in 2023, according to USA Pickleball. .

What are the most common pickleball injuries?

The overall injury rate is likely much higher. The new analysis only looked at fractures, not more common soft tissue injuries like ankle sprains or debilitating knee injuries like ACL or anterior cruciate ligament injuries. Other common pickleball injuries include rotator cuff injuries, worsening arthritis, Achilles tendon tears/strains, and foot fractures.

The vast majority of fractures discovered in the new study, 92%, occurred during falls.

“While pickleball is a great sport, nothing is without risk,” said the study’s lead author, Yasmine Ghattas, who is in her final year of medical school at the University of Florida School of Medicine. central in Orlando.

Researchers aren’t advocating for people to stop playing pickleball, just to be better prepared. “Well-informed participation in any activity is essential,” she said.

Ghattas had a personal interest in the subject.

“My fiancé and I play pickleball regularly and we are both entering the orthopedic field,” she said. “During our clinical placements, we noticed that more and more patients were arriving with pickleball-related fractures. So we looked to see if there were any studies and there weren’t any, so we decided to look deeper.

The database the researchers used to explore the topic, the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, contained a representative sample of injuries collected from 100 U.S. emergency departments. Ghattas and colleagues found descriptions of 377 pickleball-related fractures in the database between 2002 and 2022, which, when extrapolated to the entire U.S. population, totaled approximately 5,400 pickleball-related fractures per year.

Women, especially those aged 65 and older, were more likely than men to suffer a fracture. Most of these fractures involved bones in the upper body, such as those in the forearms and hands. Researchers suspect they were linked to osteoporosis or other bone-thinning conditions.

People play pickleball in New York in 2023. (Wang Fan/China News Service via Getty Images file)

People play pickleball in New York in 2023. (Wang Fan/China News Service via Getty Images file)

Although women had more fractures overall, men were 2.3 times more likely to be admitted to hospital after a fracture. Ghattas and colleagues suspect this is because men’s fractures tend to involve lower body bones, such as the hip and femur, which are more likely to result in hospitalization than upper body fractures. .

Although the increase in injuries is primarily linked to the growth of the sport, other factors may be at play, said Dr. Eric Bowman, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

For example, some people who play the sport may not have learned enough about it in advance, said Bowman, who was not involved in the study.

“You don’t just pick up a paddle and go,” he said. “As with any sport, you must learn the mechanics and form that lead to better performance and injury prevention. Some people may not have learned enough or are not physically prepared in advance.

A study co-authored by Bowman that has not yet been published finds that between 2017 and 2022, the incidence of pickleball-related injuries increased faster than the growth in popularity of the sport.

Bowman’s study found that soft tissue injuries were the most common overall. Fractures and worsening arthritis were increasingly seen in patients aged 60 and over.

Although a sport like pickleball can be good for the cardiovascular system, the study shows that people need to be careful about how they start, said Dr. Spencer Stein, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery in the division of medicine. sports from NYU Langone Health in New York City.

“You have to be careful every time you take on a new sport,” Stein said. “You should get examined by your primary care physician and get screened for osteoporosis or thinning bones.”

It’s also important to warm up before playing and choose the right shoes for the sport, Stein said. And you should learn a very important skill: falling in a way that isn’t likely to cause an injury, he said. “If you fall more sideways, you can protect your head without putting your wrists at risk,” he added.

People tend to view pickleball as relatively safe because it’s a lower-impact sport than, say, tennis, Stein said. But even so, competitiveness can lead people to overdo it.

Stein notes that middle-aged women may already be losing bones, putting them at risk for fractures. That’s why it’s important to get a bone scan, he said. “Typically, people start having these exams at age 65, but if there is a family history of fractures, it makes sense to start earlier, even as early as 50,” he added.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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