Ashtabula and Conneaut are on the ball — pickleball, that is.

Both cities boast new pickleball courts and it seems pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S.

“The pickleball courts we put in have really taken off,” said Jane Haines, Ashtabula’s Ward 5 City Council person, said at Monday night’s meeting. “I think it’s great.”

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong using a paddle and plastic ball with holes. It is a game for players of all ages and skill levels.

But with this new racquet game comes the possibility of new injuries, according to local physicians.

The Sports and Fitness Industry reported that the number of people playing pickleball increased by 21 percent in 2020. Of the 4.2 million U.S. players counted in the report, 2.8 million said they play one to seven times a year, while 1.4 million said they play eight or more times a year.

Older adults are flocking to pickleball, with 60 percent of players ages 55 or older.

But, along with the increase in participation comes an increase in pickleball pain, said Dr. Nathaniel Franley, a family and sports medicine specialist at A County Medical Center (ACMC). 

“Since pickleball is similar to tennis or badminton, you have a similar range of injuries,” he said. “Most are acute injuries such as sprains from a twisted ankle or knee. Less common, but still a risk, are torn tendons, wrist fractures, or pulled muscles in the legs and back. Chronic injuries can occur from repetitive trauma, such as tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis, or shoulder muscle tears.”

According to ACMC podiatrist, Dr. Michelle Dunbar, feet can bear the brunt of the hard stops, starts and stretches that are common in a pickleball court.

“Aside from the acute injuries, pickleball players can experience heel bruising, which occurs when the pad of fat surrounding the heel bone is damaged due to repetitive impact or an overly aggressive step when lunging to hit the ball,” she said. “Another area affected by strenuous or repetitive strain is our Achilles tendon. This band of tissues connects the calf and heel. As we age, the structure of the Achilles tendon weakens. People who have strained their Achilles tendon will experience pain in the back of the leg or near the heel.”

Other symptoms may include stiffness or tenderness, especially in the morning, she said.

Franley said frequent pickleball players can also experience rotator cuff pain or injury.

“Sudden injury might be more likely from overhead serves, suddenly going from slow easy motions to quickly striking at the ball,” he said. “However, even the slow, easy motions can cause repetitive strain or inflammation. You might first notice it as a weakness or dull ache in the shoulder. That’s your first warning sign something is becoming damaged.”

When a person experiences an injury, treatment options vary but physical therapy can help recovery and help a person strengthen their bodies for when they resume playing.

Jim Pierce-Ruhland, ACMC director of rehabilitation services, cautioned that some medication negatively affect tendons.

“You should talk to your doctor about potential side effects of medication you are taking,” he said. “For example, florquinolone antibiotics affect the collagen in your tendons and can also cause inflammation in the tendons.”

All doctors agree that stretching before playing is the passkey to prevention.

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