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Pickleball injuries are on the rise, but don’t let that keep you from playing the game

People learn how to play pickleball in a free lesson offered by the Rhinelander Area Pickleball Group.
Erin Gottsacker
People learn how to play pickleball in a free lesson offered by the Rhinelander Area Pickleball Group.

Any mention of injuries around pickleball players will also most certainly be met with an immediate acknowledgment and then a list.

Hamstrings, wrists, elbows, ankles, shoulders, knees, and hips are just a few of the mentioned at the top of mind of common areas of injuries.

Ben Solheim has just about seen them all. He’s the co-owner and regional director of Health in Motion, a physical therapy group that has clinics throughout the Northwoods.

“I didn’t even know what pickleball was until I moved to central Wisconsin,” said Solheim.

Now he and his colleagues hear about it all the time from their very enthusiastic patients.

“I’ve gotten a good education, we’ll say, from a lot of my patients. They were so enthused and just jazzed to talk about it,” he said.

Solheim says he’s seen a rise in pickleball-related injuries as the sport grows.

Health in Motion’s Eagle River Clinic has more of those patients than any of the others.

“It’s actually our busiest clinic despite being one of the smaller towns across all of our organization. Mostly with folks that are within that 55+ range,” said Solheim.

While pickleball is growing among younger generations, it’s predominantly played by seniors.

A 2021 study looked at emergency room data over the last decade.

It found that more than 85% of patients that went to the emergency room for pickleball-related injuries were 60 or older.

Seeking care

Solheim may see the recovery on some of those emergency-level injuries. For the most part, he’s dealing with rotator cuffs, overuse injuries on joints like the elbows, or arthritis build-up on the knees that are causing problems.

The treatments for each vary, but no matter what injury ails you, Solheim’s advice is the same: don’t wait to get help.

“The faster people get in and can actually get care, the faster they get out,” said Solheim.

People learn how to play pickleball in a free lesson offered by the Rhinelander Area Pickleball Group.
Erin Gottsacker
People learn how to play pickleball in a free lesson offered by the Rhinelander Area Pickleball Group.

The pickleball players at Pioneer Park in Rhinelander WXPR talked to certainly took that advice.

Bob Kirschner fell in love with the sport after getting a paddle for his birthday around a year and a half ago.

“It’s good exercise. The social aspect of it. You meet a lot of friendly people. It gets you out of bed in the morning,” he said with a laugh.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t too long after he started playing that he got his first injury.

“I rolled my ankle, so that took me out for a bit. And my shoulder’s not feeling too swift these days, but I’m sure it will be better soon,” said Kirschner who is getting physical therapy to help heal. “Next appointment is next Tuesday.”

It’s a similar story for 80-year-old Char Nemec who’s been playing pickleball for eight years.

“I’ve had a lot of knee injuries so I don’t run as fast as I used to but I can still cover most of the court,” said Nemec.

Don't stop playing

Despite the injuries neither Nemec nor Kirschner plan on stepping off the court anytime soon.

“It’s a challenge. It’s good exercise. It’s fun. I always have a lot of laughs,” said Nemec.

Nor should they stop says Solheim.

“If they can do that, if they can pick up a sport like pickleball, get some activity around it, the amount of benefits they’re going to have in so many other areas of your life is unbelievable,” said Solheim.

He does recommend taking steps to prevent serious injuries.

Health in Motion does work with patients on preventative care for things like evaluating which body parts you should be focusing on building up muscles.

“You need to work out outside of your game, especially if you’re just starting to get into this and you really want to take it seriously and really do well at it and make sure you can play as long as you can.”

If you are one of those people just starting to get into it, Kirschner warns you, not of the injuries, but how hard it will be to stay off the court.

“I have not met anybody who tried it who afterward said, ‘That’s not for me’. So be prepared to become a pickleball, some people would say, addict,” said Kirschner.

The 2021 study also found about a tenth of pickleball players suffered heart attacks or other cardiovascular events.

The Pioneer Park Pickleball Group recently donated an AED to the City of Rhinelander.

It’s located on the North Wall of the concession stand between the baseball field and pickleball courts.

To open the cabinet, people need to call 911 to get the access code for it.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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