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How to Prevent Pickleball Injuries

It’s summer in Seattle. That magic glowing ball of fire has made its yearly appearance, and with it comes more time to get outside. I constantly find myself trying new hobbies each summer, and after years of prodding by my dad, I picked up a Washington pastime. Yes, the great game of pickleball!

If you are not aware of pickleball, it started on Bainbridge Island in 1965 and is played on tennis courts all over Seattle. While starting to play the game with other participants, people often ask me what I do for a living, and when I say I’m a physical therapist a flood of questions typically follow on what to do for a nagging injury or what to do before playing. I'm here to finally answer all of those burning questions!

4 Ways to Prevent Pickleball Injuries

1. Motion is Lotion

This is a phrase we use often in our clinic. Why? Well, joints need proper lubrication, just like a hinge on a door. When we lose this lubrication, we start hearing the popping, crackling sounds, just like a squeaky door. When a door starts squeaking, you pull out the WD-40, right? Your body has its own “WD-40”, it is called synovial fluid and it just needs to be applied more evenly around your joints. Exercise is a great way to disperse the fluid around your joints, helping you to move better with less pain. One key area to target for pickleball injury prevention is the hips. Below I’ve attached a video of one of my favorite full-body and hip dynamic warm-ups.

2. Keep Those Legs Strong

Last week when I was out playing, I counted 10 knee braces on fellow players, and this didn’t include the kinesiology tape I saw on other players. I’m just as guilty of this - showing up and playing without putting in the effort to stay healthy off the court. A simple and beneficial exercise to help keep your legs, hips, and knees strong while playing pickleball is to utilize a lunge matrix to target those areas. Utilization of a lunge matrix will target your lower body to become stronger and more resilient to the load you put on yourself while playing pickleball. The great thing about a lunge matrix is that it targets your muscles and joints in multiple planes of motion similar to how pickleball is played. Training this way reduces the risk of injury and keeps you on the court instead of on the sidelines.

3. Loosen Up Your Upper Body

The other week, I was chatting with my Dad and he was telling me his shoulder and elbow have been bothering him while playing pickleball. With him being my dad, I assessed his movement multiple times over the years and knew his new issue was due to a lack of thoracic spine mobility. What is your thoracic spine, you may be asking? It is the middle portion of your spine that attaches to your ribs. Additionally, it happens to be the most important part of your body to help you rotate and reach for a ball and generate rotation for a return volley. A lack of thoracic spine mobility can leave you feeling like you have T-Rex arms resulting in you overextending your shoulders and elbows while playing. The video below is one of my favorite exercises to loosen up your thoracic spine and shoulders before playing pickleball. In case you are wondering about my dad, he’s back playing pain-free after applying the exercises below.

4. Seek a Professional

The quickest way to end joint and muscle pain and get to the root of the issue is to see a physical therapist like myself, a movement expert. Your pain and discomfort are unique to you and likely several factors contribute to your pain. Physical therapists are experts in movement and can watch you move, assess restricted and tight muscles, and determine what the “source” of your pain is, not just the symptoms! To achieve complete recovery, an individualized treatment program needs to be developed to address each contributing factor.

Rehab United Seattle was founded to give clients access to world-class, uncompromised physical therapy. We believe you deserve care that is never “watered-down” or diluted. We focus our treatment plans on the individual and your daily activities and hobbies, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. If you are suffering from pain while playing pickleball or any other activity, there is no better time than the present to see a physical therapist at Rehab United Seattle. Enjoy the summer instead of riding the sidelines, come see us!

Schedule the Care You Need!

If you're interested in physical therapy and how it can benefit you, schedule an evaluation and one of our physical therapists will get to the root of your issue. Our highly knowledgeable staff will get you back to doing the activities you love in no time, and most importantly, without pain.


Kelly Vanhove, PT, DPT, FAFS, ATC is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, and Director of the Seattle Rehab United Clinic. With over 14 years of experience in outpatient physical therapy as well as being a Fellow of Applied Functional Science, he possesses valuable knowledge of all functional techniques of assessment, rehabilitation, training and conditioning, performance, and prevention.

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