12437613096?profile=RESIZE_710xJulian Gershaw, 75, of Delray Beach is a frequent and accomplished player but even he has been injured before. Photo provided

Related: Along the Coast: Pickleball popularity is reshaping recreational offerings

By Jan Engoren

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, growing 51.8% from 2022 to 2023 and 223.5% since 2020, according to the 2024 Sports & Fitness Industry Association Topline Participation Report. Last year, approximately 13.6 million players enjoyed the game that takes its inspiration from tennis, badminton and table tennis.

However, with growing popularity comes an increase in injuries.

The most common are fractures, sprained ankles and injuries to the knees, Achilles and rotator cuff.

In 2019, the Journal of Emergency Medicine estimated there were about 19,000 pickleball injuries per year, with 90% of them in people 50 and older.

USA Pickleball, the governing body, says the sport is less taxing on the body than some others, but still carries risk of injury — especially in older adults.

Snowbird and retired special education teacher Janet Arnowitz, 69, hit herself around the eye while returning a lob, resulting in a large bump on her brow and discoloration.

Retired Delray Beach resident Julian Gershaw, 75, a former tennis player, has been playing pickleball for 10 years and has a wall filled with medals from tournaments in places such as Michigan, Jacksonville, Tampa and Naples. At home he plays indoors at Pick a Ball in Deerfield Beach and outside in Boynton Beach, competing almost every day.

Yet five years ago, while playing indoors at the Delray Beach Community Center, Gershaw tripped over his feet, fell and hit his face. He injured his nose, broke a tooth and injured a finger when he landed on his paddle.

Although he says his injuries were accidental, he attributes other types of injuries to players not being in shape.

“Many people don’t realize they need to be in shape to play,” he says. “While the sport may not seem strenuous, you can’t go from the couch to the court.”

Ava Sloane, 69, a retired human resource manager from Delray Beach, and Bill Edelman, 68, a retired chairman of a medical device company, play together at Patch Reef Park in Boca Raton.

“I love the social aspect of the game,” says Sloane, a former tennis and racquetball player who has been playing pickleball for a year. “It’s a godsend — it’s addictive and keeps me moving.”

Edelman, a part-time Boynton Beach resident, says he’s trying to be healthier and spend more time outdoors since coming from Massachusetts.

“Florida is the perfect antidote to 45 years of constant working,” he jokes.

Sloane and Edelman have both sustained injuries from the sport.

Running for a shot, Sloane suffered a sprained knee and was out of commission for weeks. She usually does other cardio such as riding a bike.

“I feel lucky that it was nothing worse,” she says.

Edelman tripped on his shoelaces and hit his knee on the concrete court, tearing his meniscus. “Mostly, I was embarrassed,” he says.

His rehab included physical therapy and a goal to rally with his 7-year-old grandson.

“I’m now more mindful of where I put my feet, instead of playing like a crazy person,” he says.

Glenn Chapman, 54, medical director of Surfside Orthopedics in Ocean Ridge, says he often sees patients with pickleball injuries.

“Pickleball has a silly name, but it’s not a silly sport,” he says. “People think it’s easy, are unprepared and don’t take precautions.”

Pickleball players in Florida tend to be older, he says, and may already have arthritis, osteoporosis or balance or coordination issues.

“It’s easy to fall and break a wrist,” he says. “Or, get tennis elbow, or sprain your Achilles tendon.”

The quick movement required in pickleball is not designed for older adults, he says. “It’s easy to misstep, twist and tear.”

A former tennis player, Chapman runs, swims, surfs and plays soccer, but admits he hasn’t tried pickleball.

To avoid injury, he suggests stretching and warming up, wearing appropriate gear, including court shoes for ankle support, learning proper technique and playing to your level of conditioning.

“Don’t go crazy,” he says.

David Alboukrek, 66, a rheumatologist from Boynton Beach, was wearing running shoes — and not court shoes — when he ruptured his Achilles tendon.

Out of commission for 10 months, Alboukrek wore a boot and cast and needed a scooter. He chose nonsurgical therapy and is now back to playing two or three times each week.

Wanting to share his story so others may avoid his mistakes, Alboukrek reiterates the importance of wearing proper court shoes, warming up and investing in lessons to learn proper technique.

A squash and U.S. amateur table tennis tournament player, Alboukrek recently participated in a pickleball tournament in Naples.

“It’s addictive,” he says. “I lost, but had the best time ever.”

Jan Engoren writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to jengoren@hotmail.com.

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