Updated: Nov 10
When asked about pickleball, most individuals conjure to mind an image of their grandmother playing the game. While pickleball was historically a sport relegated to senior communities, the same is not true today. According to the USA Pickleball Association, pickleball has grown more than 650% in recent years- and that’s not just limited to the over-60 crowd! So, what makes pickleball so special? The game has many assets that have contributed to its rapidly growing popularity, one of which is its accessibility of the game. Unlike many other sports, such as tennis, you don’t need to be an experienced athlete to play. Easy to pick up and simple to play, the sport can be played indoors or outdoors by children and seniors alike. Additionally, the rackets and balls are much cheaper when compared to a game like tennis, making it a more affordable option. Check out a pickleball court, and you’re likely to see a range of players of all ages, skill, and health levels!
Recently designated as the official sport of Washington, pickleball was invented in 1965 as a sports game for children. Since then, pickleball has grown steadily over the years, to include over 4.8 million players in the United States alone. In fact, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association named pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America in 2021 and 2022! The sport combines elements of several other sports, including tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Luckily, you don’t need experience with any of those to play pickleball! Played on an outdoor or indoor tennis court with pickleball lines, players use special paddles to hit a whiffle ball back and forth over a net. The game is most often played as doubles, but you can also play singles. While pickleball has its own set of rules, as with any sport, most fans report the sport is easy to pick up, and play is very straightforward! Read on to learn more about this low-impact, high-fun game.
So, why am I discussing Pickleball as an Integrative Pain Management physician? As someone who sees many individuals with joint injuries and arthritic pain, my favorite aspect of pickleball is how low impact it is on the body. This is due to a number of factors:
The pickleball court is much smaller in comparison to many other courts. This equates to less movement and running, meaning less strain on your knee, hip, and ankle joints.
Playing with a lighter ball and a paddle without strings means less stress on your arms.
Combined, these elements create a game that minimizes the impact on your body while maximizing the impact on your health! This is a great option for people who are thinking about picking up tennis as they hit middle age.
While movement is an important facet of health for any age, it becomes increasingly important as you advance in your years. I’m sure your treatment team has already expressed to you how vital movement is to the human body and how essential it is to longevity. I’ll remind you again: regular physical activity not only helps to manage weight and boost cardiovascular health, but it improves your immune system and even your cognitive health! Unfortunately, the same old running and biking routine can get old quickly. That’s where pickleball comes in. Currently, pickleball is one of my favorite options for cardio.
But to me, pickleball is more than just a cardiovascular exercise. The numerous benefits include the prevention of hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and weight management. Additionally, a racket sport such as pickleball will help keep your hand-eye coordination and balance sharp as you age – a very important and underlooked aspect of aging. Further than just physical, pickleball has the potential to improve your mental health as well. Exercise is well reported to release endorphins, helping to counteract depression and anxiety. Exercise also helps release BDNF or Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which correlates with improvements in cognitive function and memory! A social sport, such as pickleball, will only bolster those effects! Whether you’re in your 20s or 80s, cultivating a fitness routine is an invaluable way to boost your mind and body AND maintain social connections – another very important piece of the longevity equation!
As with any sport, there are a few risks to be aware of when playing pickleball. Luckily, any injuries associated with pickleball are likely to be minor. Sprains and muscle tears may occur with vigorous movement, and repeated use of the upper arm joints may lead to tendonitis or rotator cuff injuries. If you are in pain or are worried about an injury you’ve acquired (in any sport), make sure to call your doctor! An interventional pain physician with an integrative approach can help you develop a functional, preventative, and maintenance plan that keeps you out of pain and on the court.
Pickleball is a great option for anyone looking to add some movement into their life- regardless of age or skill level! The game is a great way to get regular aerobic exercise without putting too much strain on your bones, muscles, and joints. Grab a racket, ball, and a friend, and give pickleball a try soon. Maybe I’ll even see you on the court!