Are you one of the five million people playing pickleball in the United States? Pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in the United States for four years running — it’s social, fun, and keeps you in great shape.
But pickleball requires multiple movements that can cause stress on joints, particularly the knees — starts, stops, lateral movements, and twists.
Pickleballers use their backs a lot when they play as well. From reaching, to spinal rotation and bending over — your back gets a workout!
Have you ever suffered a strain, sprain, or injury while playing pickleball? If so, you are not alone. Resting an injury and not getting your time on the court is the worst! But it does not have to be this way.
The Paseo Club is a social club in Santa Clarita that has 11 pickleball courts and several classes and clinics for pickleball players. Our members often ask the pickleball instructors how best to protect their joints and backs while they play.
Well, in this article, we are going to answer that question. You will learn how to warm up, cool down, and play safely. You will even discover how your attire can affect your risks.
How to warm up your knees and back for pickleball
Although the game of pickleball is drawing a younger crowd every year, the majority of people who play pickleball are 55 and older.
Because pickleball relies on knee and back health, and due to the average age of the players, prevention of injury is paramount.
When it comes to the warmup for pickleball, far too many players simply begin by dinking with their partner.
A dynamic warmup can help stave off injuries and help your body properly prepare for the rigors of the game — and the warmup should be done before you even pick up your paddle.
Dynamic stretching consists of doing 10-12 reps of specific stretches that mimic the movements you are about to perform in your sport. It’s best to hold a stretch no longer than 15-30 seconds instead of the 60-90 second stretches that can help post-exercise.
If you hold the stretches longer, it actually reduces your strength, power, and performance.
What dynamic stretches are best for your knees and back
Below is a great format to follow every time you prepare for a game of pickleball. Try two or three rounds of 30 seconds of each movement before beginning your on-court warmup.
jumping jacks or jumping rope
If you already suffer from sore knees, try using the fence or a sturdy bench to help support you. This arrangement allows the heels to take on the brunt of your weight in your squats.
You may also want to try reverse lunges instead of forward lunges. Your knees will be able to track more gently, better protecting them.
How to care for your knees and back while playing pickleball
One of the most critical steps a pickleball player can take to protect their knees when playing is to be “light” on their feet. This approach is one of the biggest differences between tennis and pickleball.
In tennis, consistent footwork is key to any high-level player. Anticipation is important, but you always move your feet and plan your move to the next ball.
In pickleball, constant foot movement can become a problem because you do not have time to overstep and correct your footwork before the next ball arrives.
Learning to be light on your feet in the back court, hit more open-stance shots, and be in position immediately after will make you a stronger player. This technique will also save your knees from overstepping on the court and potentially needing to re-correct and get out of balance.
The same happens at the net. When you learn tennis, you are taught to step into your volleys, thus needing a split step and lots of small steps to stay prepared.
In pickleball, you cannot step into the non-volley zone — and those steps can be costly. Instead, stay on the balls of your feet and don’t take strong steps toward the net. This method is gentler on your back and knees and helps you be a more strategic volleyer.
How attire affects your knees and back while playing pickleball
During the match, one of the easiest ways to care for your knees and back is to wear the proper attire.
Once your feet are set safely in good socks and shoes (do not skimp on good socks!), movements are safer.
How to cool down your knees and back for pickleball
The purpose of cooling down is to allow your muscles to return to their normal length and strain. Here, longer holds are beneficial. But be sure to avoid the “bouncing” reaches that can hurt more than help.
Your chance to really “zen” out — starting with longer, deeper breaths — is during the cooldown. Long breaths helps you to control your heart rate after enjoying high-intensity play.
As your heart rate decreases and breathing becomes easier, you can add slower stretches such as quad pulls, chest pulls, overhead reaches, and toe touches (or calf, as the case may be).
Take a little more time here, and allow your body to use the stretches to reset your muscles. It will help minimize soreness and help you maintain mobility and flexibility.
How to get the most out of your pickleball games
If you are like most pickleballers, you are a fanatic for the sport. It is no wonder it has gained popularity so quickly.
But aches, pains, and strains do not need to be the price you pay for time on the court. With a little attention to warming up, playing with attention to your technique, and a proper cooldown, you can avoid most injuries.
Jen Azevedo is a person of many talents. She is a tennis professional, pickleball professional, personal trainer, group exercise instructor, and the general manager of the Paseo Club. She loves the community at the Paseo Club and that it is also a safe and fun place for her daughter. Jen’s favorite activities are joining her tribe for trail races or her partners for tennis matches. Occasionally Jen slows down to relax with a book — she reads over 100 a year!