Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of the Number One Injury in Pickleball

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of the Number One Injury in Pickleball

Pickleball has gained immense popularity in recent years, attracting players of all ages and skill levels. However, like any sport, it comes with its fair share of risks. One particular injury that pickleball players should be aware of is known as pickleball shoulder. This article will delve into the signs and symptoms of this common injury, helping players recognize and address it promptly.

Understanding Pickleball Shoulder

Pickleball shoulder refers to the overuse and strain of the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments. As pickleball involves repetitive overhead shots, serving, and swinging motions, the shoulder is particularly vulnerable to stress and strain. This injury typically affects both recreational and competitive players, and if left untreated, it can lead to chronic pain and limited mobility.

The Importance of Recognizing Pickleball Shoulder

Recognizing pickleball shoulder is crucial as it allows players to seek appropriate treatment and prevent further damage. By understanding the underlying causes and symptoms of this injury, individuals can take necessary steps to address it early on. This not only promotes a faster recovery but also helps prevent long-term complications that may hinder performance and enjoyment of the game.

Common Causes of Pickleball Shoulder

Pickleball shoulder is primarily caused by the repetitive nature of the sport, which places significant stress on the shoulder joint. Over time, the continuous overhead shots, serving, and swinging motions can lead to micro-tears, inflammation, and overuse injuries in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the shoulder. It is essential for players to be aware of these factors and take preventive measures to minimize the risk of developing pickleball shoulder.

Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of pickleball shoulder is crucial in order to seek appropriate treatment and prevent further damage. Here are the common indicators of this injury:

1. Shoulder Pain: The most evident symptom of pickleball shoulder is pain in the shoulder joint. The pain may vary in intensity and can be felt both during and after playing pickleball. It might start as a mild discomfort but can progressively worsen over time.

2. Limited Range of Motion: Another sign to watch for is a decrease in the shoulder's range of motion. You may experience difficulty in fully extending your arm or rotating it properly due to pain and stiffness. This limitation in movement can significantly impact your ability to perform pickleball strokes effectively.

3. Weakness and Instability: As pickleball shoulder progresses, you might notice weakness in the affected shoulder. This can make it challenging to perform certain pickleball strokes, resulting in a loss of power and accuracy. The weakened muscles and instability can affect your overall game performance.

4. Tenderness and Swelling: The injured shoulder may feel tender to touch and exhibit mild swelling. These symptoms might be more pronounced immediately after playing or performing repetitive shoulder movements. It is important to pay attention to any changes in the appearance or sensitivity of the shoulder.

5. Clicking or Popping Sensation: Some individuals with pickleball shoulder may experience a clicking or popping sensation when moving their shoulder. This can occur due to underlying joint or tendon issues and should not be ignored. If you experience such sensations, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

Other Potential Symptoms to Consider

While the aforementioned signs and symptoms are commonly associated with pickleball shoulder, it is important to note that each individual may experience the condition differently. Some players may also report additional symptoms, such as muscle fatigue, difficulty sleeping due to shoulder pain, or even referred pain in the neck or upper back area. It is crucial to be mindful of any changes or discomfort in the shoulder region and seek appropriate medical attention if needed.

Preventive Measures

Prevention is always better than cure, and pickleball players can take several proactive steps to minimize the risk of developing shoulder injuries. Consider the following preventive measures:

1. Warm-Up and Stretch: Prior to playing pickleball, take the time to warm up your body and stretch your shoulder muscles. This helps increase blood flow and flexibility, reducing the chances of strains and tears. Incorporate dynamic stretches and exercises that target the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles.

2. Strengthening Exercises: Engage in regular shoulder-strengthening exercises to build the muscles surrounding the joint. This will provide additional support and stability, reducing the risk of overuse injuries. Focus on exercises that target the rotator cuff muscles, such as external and internal rotations and lateral raises.

3. Proper Technique: Ensure you are using proper technique and form when executing pickleball strokes. Seek advice from a qualified coach or instructor to refine your skills and minimize unnecessary strain on your shoulder. Proper technique can help distribute the forces evenly throughout the shoulder joint, reducing the risk of overloading specific structures.

4. Rest and Recovery: Listen to your body and give yourself sufficient rest between playing sessions. Overtraining and excessive play can increase the likelihood of developing injuries. Allow your shoulder muscles to recover and rejuvenate. Incorporate rest days into your training schedule and avoid pushing through pain or discomfort.

5. Use Protective Gear: Consider wearing supportive shoulder braces or wraps during play, especially if you've had previous shoulder injuries. These can provide extra stability and help prevent re-injury. Consult with a healthcare professional or sports equipment specialist to determine the most suitable gear for your specific needs.

6. Maintain Overall Fitness: A strong and healthy body is less prone to injuries. Engage in regular physical activity, maintain a balanced diet, and stay hydrated to optimize your overall fitness and reduce the risk of pickleball shoulder. Incorporate cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and flexibility exercises into your fitness routine.

The Role of Proper Equipment in Injury Prevention

In addition to the preventive measures mentioned above, it is important to consider the role of proper equipment in reducing the risk of pickleball shoulder. Investing in a high-quality pickleball paddle that provides good grip and control can help minimize strain on the shoulder. Similarly, using pickleballs that are appropriate for the playing surface and conditions can also contribute to injury prevention. It is advisable to research and choose equipment that suits your playing style and body mechanics.

Treatment Options

If you suspect you have pickleball shoulder or experience any of the aforementioned signs and symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly. A healthcare professional, such as a sports medicine specialist or orthopedic doctor, can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options. Common treatments for this condition include:

1. Rest and Activity Modification: Initially, resting the injured shoulder and avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain is typically advised. This allows the shoulder to heal and reduces further strain. Modifying activities, such as avoiding overhead shots or reducing playing time, may be necessary during the recovery phase.

2. Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can guide you through specific exercises and stretches to improve shoulder strength, flexibility, and stability. They may also use modalities such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation for pain relief. Physical therapy plays a crucial role in restoring function and preventing future injuries.

3. Medication: Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. However, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before taking any medication. They can provide guidance on the appropriate dosage and duration of medication use.

4. Corticosteroid Injections: In some cases, a corticosteroid injection may be recommended to reduce inflammation and pain in the shoulder joint. This is typically done under the guidance of a medical professional. It is important to note that corticosteroid injections are not a long-term solution and should be used judiciously.

5. Surgery: In severe cases of pickleball shoulder that do not respond to conservative treatments, surgery may be necessary. However, surgical intervention is usually considered a last resort. The type of surgery recommended will depend on the specific condition and severity of the injury. Rehabilitation following surgery is crucial for a successful recovery.

The Role of Rehabilitation in Recovery

Rehabilitation plays a vital role in the recovery process for pickleball shoulder. It involves a structured program of exercises, stretches, and therapies aimed at restoring strength, mobility, and function of the shoulder joint. Working with a physical therapist or rehabilitation specialist can help optimize the recovery process and prevent re-injury. The program may include strengthening exercises, range-of-motion exercises, manual therapies, and gradual return to pickleball-specific activities.


Pickleball shoulder is a prevalent injury among players of all skill levels, but it can be recognized and addressed effectively. By familiarizing yourself with the signs and symptoms discussed in this article, you can seek timely medical attention and take steps to prevent further damage. Remember to prioritize proper warm-up, technique, and rest to minimize the risk of developing this painful condition. Stay proactive, stay safe, and enjoy the game of pickleball to the fullest!


1. What is pickleball shoulder?
Pickleball shoulder refers to the overuse and strain of the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is caused by the repetitive overhead shots, serving, and swinging motions in pickleball.

2. What are the signs and symptoms of pickleball shoulder?
The signs and symptoms of pickleball shoulder include shoulder pain, limited range of motion, weakness and instability, tenderness and swelling, and a clicking or popping sensation in the shoulder.

3. How can I prevent pickleball shoulder?
To prevent pickleball shoulder, you can warm up and stretch before playing, engage in regular shoulder-strengthening exercises, use proper technique, rest and recover between playing sessions, use protective gear like shoulder braces, and maintain overall fitness.

4. What are the treatment options for pickleball shoulder?
The treatment options for pickleball shoulder include rest and activity modification, physical therapy, medication (such as NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections, and surgery in severe cases. Rehabilitation also plays a vital role in the recovery process.

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