Staying Safe While Playing Pickleball

People often view pickleball as “tennis lite” due to the small court size, slower ball and manageable paddle sizes. While it’s true that pickleball is easier on the body compared to tennis and most other racquet sports, it’s dangerous to presume that you can’t get injured at all playing the game.

As with any sport, there are risks involved. Thankfully these problems can be minimized with proper precautions and self care. Here are a few ways to ensure you stay safe so you can continue playing pickleball for a long time:

Don’t rush for shots

You know how volleyball players will throw themselves into dramatic dives to return the ball? Don’t do that!

Skinned knees, smacked elbows and possibly even broken bones are not worth saving a single point. While it’s understandable that you might be tempted to leap for a ball that’s just out of range, you don’t want to put off play for weeks on end because you pushed yourself too far.

Let the ball go instead of doing lasting damage to your body.

Volleyball dive

Don’t run backwards during lobs

Similar to the point above, too many players end up scuttling backwards when they see a high shot and end up tripping over themselves.

Take a moment to fully twist your hips to the side and let your feet point in the direction you’re moving. You can keep your eye on the ball, but if you feel yourself losing balance, take a moment to reacquaint yourself with your position on the court.

Avoid pickleball elbow

In many cases, prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to pickleball elbow. Choose a paddle that’s the right weight for you so you don’t strain your tendons, and don’t play so much that you put undue stress on your body.

Properly warming up, stretching, wearing braces and adding some weight lifting into your exercise routine can also help prep yourself for play.

Elbow brace

Wear the right shoes

We recommend using a good tennis or volleyball shoe for pickleball depending on whether you’re playing outdoors or indoors.

Make sure you’re not wearing anything with slippery soles so you don’t lose your balance on the court, nor anything too “grippy” so that you don’t trip over yourself during faster movements.

Pay attention to your body

If you’re feeling tired, winded, dizzy or simply drained, give yourself a break! Pickleball games tend to be short and your partner and opponents will likely appreciate the rest period as well. Your health comes before play.

You may think it could never happen to you, but some players have experienced heart attacks after playing pickleball, and you should be wary of the warning signs. Pay attention for pressure in the chest, shortness of breath, lightheadedness and pain along the arms, back, neck and jaw.

Communicate with other players

Especially if you’re playing doubles, make sure you’re calling “mine” or “yours” and have an established method for determining who goes after what ball. Talking to your partner will help you avoid accidental collisions, which can be as minor as a smacked hand or as dramatic as running into each other during a lob.

Don’t be afraid to talk with your opponents, either. This can be particularly relevant if you’re playing against more aggressive players who use tagging (hitting the ball into the body) to score points. This is an accepted part of the game, but casual games don’t need to be held to the same standards as those in tournaments.

Pickleball is safer than many sports, but you should still be cautious and ensure proper care of your body. Are there any unfortunate situations you could have avoided with a bit more awareness?


9 thoughts on “Staying Safe While Playing Pickleball

  1. Excellent advice. Went to a first time practice, loved it but could have done real damage being a rookie! Hit the floor twice while going for balls that don’t quite bounce like tennis balls. After years of tennis and bil total knees, the brain is trained but the muscles aren’t. Still trying to work up the nerve to return. Missing my tennis days.

    • Hi Debbie,

      Sorry to hear about the initial struggle, but I’m glad you had a fun time and I hope you give it another try! It’s tempting to go after risky shots, but sometimes it’s wiser to just let them go. At the least, being more careful does lead you to think more about shot placement and trying to stay a few steps ahead to avoid those situations. Wishing you the best!

  2. I began pickleball a couple months ago and play very competitively on courts in my town due to a past but long-idle tennis background. The most dangerous situations I have consistently observed on pickleball courts are the grossly inadequate buffer zones around the playing surface. For the official 20 ft x 44 ft pickleball playing area, the USAPA 2020 rules ( recommend only a minimum area of 30 x 60 ft and recommend 40 x 64 ft. So, the side buffers are a little closer to tennis, but the rear-court buffers are only about half as much, at best. This deficiency is very common especially when pickleball nets are placed in a situation that is not designed for this sport, which is most everywhere (eg. 3 side-by-side on a basketball court), but I have also seen dangerously close chainlink fences installed on public outdoor courts specifically made for pickleball. The former tennis playing leaves me accustomed to swiftly ranging far and wide for returns. In two months of pickleball play, I have personally run hard into solid rear walls on indoor pickleball courts twice, causing serious weeks-long damage to my rib cage both times, once on the right side and once on the left. Outdoors, I have run hard into the aforementioned side and rear chain link fences. If Pickleball aspires to appeal to the masses, including fit, healthy mobile generations, then this very serious problem MUST be addressed. If the desire is to constrain it to frail generations lacking the physical ability and mental determination to competitively chase after balls, then perhaps the present minimalist approach to buffer zones will suffice for that segment of the population. By the way, in my very brief exposure to pickleball (about 50 hours total playing time) I have also observed others experience two serious calf injuries attributed to rapid acceleration during which a “pop” was heard from the leg. In tennis, a player at the net can hold the racquet up in front of the face to protect against hard hits. I did this often. In pickleball, one cannot do this because the paddles are opaque. As a sidenote, in my opinion the most nonsensical rule in pickleball is being prohibited from entering the NVZ after hitting a ball from elsewhere and then being carried into the NVZ by momentum. This serves absolutely no value, safety or otherwise, and should be immediately deleted from the rulebook.

    • Ouch! Sounds like a painful lesson, James. Pickleball may be easy to pick up, but it’s also surprisingly easy to overdo it if you aren’t careful! Hope you’re healthy and feeling better now. 🙂

  3. I would add that players should really wear glasses. I’ve seen at least serious 3 eye injuries in the last couple of years, one that involved a player who got injured off a miss hit off their own racquet, and two who got hit in the side of the eye from their own partners. Two required operations to fix.

    As someone who enjoys hitting the ball hard, if someone hits me in the eye and I get seriously injured because I wasn’t wearing glasses? Then it’s MY fault, not theirs…and vice versa.

    • Great addition, Rich! Eyewear can prevent some unfortunate injuries and also reduce glare from the sun or harsh indoor lighting. A lot of the sports-related options are shatterproof as well.

      • Another good mention! Pickleball elbow is one of those sneaky health problems that can pop up all of a sudden and people may not realize bad habits are causing it. Always good to review form through videos or a more experienced player/instructor.

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