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An unexpected danger: the dark side of pickleball

Pickleball enthusiasts are finding out that America’s fastest-growing sport has a side effect: a rising tide of injuries.

Healthcare costs of pickleball-related injuries reached up to $500 million in 2023, according to theNational Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS).

“Recently, pickleball has brought me more patients than any other sport,” said Dr. David Moss, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington D.C. “People think of it as a relatively safe sport because of how small the court is, but there is more lateral movement than you think.”

Above: Pickleball injuries have been on a steady incline as the sport gains more popularity.

Pickleball is a mix between tennis, badminton and ping pong. Players hit the ball back and forth over the net, aiming to score points by making it land within the boundaries of the opposing side. Though it was invented in the 1960s, the game’s popularity has skyrocketed over recent years.The Association of Pickleball Professionals reported that about 48 million Americans played pickleball at least once in 2023, a 35% increase from 2022.

Compared to tennis, pickleball had more than twice the number of players in 2023. Though pickleball has a larger pool of players, Moss explained that the two court sports have similar injury risks.

Above: Pickleball participation made a dramatic increase in 2022. The sport doubled the amount of tennis players in 2023.

“I don’t think the injury risk for pickleball is any greater than tennis,” Moss said. “The reason you see so many injuries in pickleball is because of the sheer amount of older people that play daily.”

People who are 50 years old or older are most susceptible to injury, according to Dr. Moss. Seniors enjoy pickleball for its low-impact, social and easy-to-learn nature, providing both physical activity and group interaction. There were an estimated 19,000 injuries in 2023, with 91% of injuries occurring in patients 50 years of age or older, according to the NEISS.

Communities with large senior populations like the Villages are no stranger to pickleball-related injuries. With 253 pickleball courts, residents like Stacey Walters, a 57-year-old exercise instructor, have fallen victim to the unexpected hazards of pickleball.

Above: The most common pickleball injuries per age group in 2022.

“It was a windy day and the ball is light. The ball was hit over to my side and the wind took it, making it turn real quickly,” Walters said. “The next thing I know my feet caught on each other and my wrist is broken. The doctor I went to said she had so many patients that she is hesitant to play.”

The bruise that consumed most of Aileen Sweren’s leg after she fell on pickleball stored in her pocket. (courtesy Aileen Sweren)
The bruise that consumed most of Aileen Sweren’s leg after she fell on pickleball stored in her pocket. (courtesy Aileen Sweren)

Villages resident Aileen Sweren, a 71-year-old retired dental hygienist, severely bruised herself by falling on the ball itself. Sweren explained that she used to play tennis, where keeping the ball in a pocket was normal. While playing pickleball, she fell on the side where the ball was placed in her pocket, causing the ball to smash and her leg to be covered in bruises.

“I was stunned,” Sweren said. “I didn't realize I fell that badly. I got up and continued playing, only to realize I had a monstrous bruise with a hematoma [a collection of blood outside of a blood vessel] underneath.”

Players under 50 are not immune to pickleball-related injuries either.

Drew Johnson, a 20-year-old UF biomedical engineering major, tore his anterior cruciate ligament, a ligament in the knee that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, while chasing a pickleball that was hit over his head. The tear resulted in him needing surgery to repair his knee.

“I was playing one vs. one against my friend. As I was running to hit the ball that was over my head, my knee buckled and I heard a pop,” Johnson said. “After that I knew I was toast.”

Drew Johnson right before he is put under for ACL surgery. (courtesy Drew Johnson)
Drew Johnson right before he is put under for ACL surgery. (courtesy Drew Johnson)

Moss says players have a misconception that stretching before playing can help prevent injury. He warns against any new player jumping right into the sport without doing research and urges older players to consult with a doctor.

“A lot of studies show that stretching isn’t beneficial to preventing injury,” Moss said. “Warming up before playing is essential. If you have never played before, getting your cardio up with methods like cross training can help prepare your body.”

Though there are injury risks, pickleball’s rise in popularity has created a strong, connected community.

“I have only lived in the Villages for about two years, but you make friends right away through pickleball,” Sweren said. “I have a group I play about twice a week with, but I also branch out and play with other groups from different neighborhoods.”

In addition to relationship building, pickleball promotes physical health.

“I am a big proponent of being active,” Moss said. “Sure that equates to more injuries, but it's much better than being a couch potato.”

Jesse is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing