The Pickleball Paradox: Why Sports Aren’t a Substitute for Exercise

Pickleball has become almost synonymous with having an active lifestyle for adults 50+.

With its inviting blend of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, it promises not only fun and camaraderie but also an enticing way to stay active.

However, as more and more people trade their workout routines for a pickleball paddle, it's crucial to address a serious misconception:

Playing sports like pickleball is not a replacement for personalized exercise.


The Hidden Risks: Injury Statistics

I am in no way saying people should stop playing pickleball or any other sport that they enjoy. In fact, I would love to see more people doing whatever brings them joy and connection.

However, recent statistics have started to shed light on the fact that pickleball, even though it is considered low-impact and safe for older adults, is not without its risks.

The rapid movements and sudden start/stops can lead to strains, sprains, and more serious injuries like Achilles tendon ruptures.

It is worth noting that other “low-impact” sports are no different.

Tennis, with its repetitive swinging and high-impact footwork, often leads to shoulder and elbow injuries, such as tennis elbow, as well as knee problems.

Golf, thought to be the “gentlest” of the three, still poses risks for back injuries and golfer's elbow, attributed to the repetitive motion of swinging the club.


The Role of Exercise in Injury Prevention

The key to mitigating these risks comes down to having a comprehensive approach to your fitness. Sport can play a part, but it is not usually helpful to think of sport as exercise.

While it does get you moving, structured exercise, especially strength, flexibility, and balance training, is what will allow you the opportunity to create a strong, injury-resistant body.

Strength training builds muscle mass and bone density, both of which decline with age, providing better support for the joints and reducing the risk of fractures.

Flexibility exercises improve range of motion and reduce the risk of strains by allowing muscles and joints to move more freely.

Balance exercises, which can be as simple as standing on one leg or as complex as tai chi routines, are crucial for preventing falls, especially in sports with rapid changes of direction, like pickleball.


Incorporating Exercise into Your Routine

If you’re over 50, integrating exercise into your routine is not just beneficial, it's essential. Here's how you can do it:

1. Strength Training: Aim for at least two sessions per week, focusing on major muscle groups. Use weights, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises to maintain or increase muscle strength and support your joints.

2. Flexibility and Mobility Work: Incorporate daily stretching or yoga sessions to enhance your flexibility, focusing on areas that are particularly strained by your sport of choice.

3. Balance Training: Include balance exercises in your routine several times a week. These can be simple balance challenges or more structured practices like tai chi.

4. Cardio Training: Engage in other forms of cardiovascular exercise, such as swimming, cycling, or walking, to improve your overall fitness without over-stressing the muscles and joints used in your primary sport.

5. Recovery Strategies: Include activities that support muscle and nervous system recovery to ensure you are benefitting from all the training you are doing! These can include foam rolling, massage, compression therapy, red light therapy, meditation, and getting enough water and sleep.


A Balanced Approach

Remember, the goal is not to replace your sports…it is to supplement them in a way that allows you to play more while minimizing your risk of injury.

Think of exercise as the foundation upon which your sports activities are built — a stronger foundation equals a safer, more enjoyable experience.

By doing so, you can ensure that these activities remain a part of your life for many years to come, bringing joy, friendship, and health.