Some 22.3 million people in the U.S. play pickleball, a mix of ping-pong and tennis, making it America’s fastest-growing sport. It’s relatively easy to learn compared to other recreational activities and highly popular among all age groups, but it can also leave players in pain, especially older adults.
A new analysis from UBS shows that the sport’s growing popularity has led to higher injury rates and increased healthcare costs. If this trend holds, pickleball-related injuries are expected to cost the country somewhere between $250 million and $500 million this year alone, representing 5% to 10% of total unexpected medical costs.
The most common injuries tend to be wrist, leg, and shoulder pain, including aches and sprains. Lacerations or dislocations make up less than 10% of related injuries. The authors of the report estimate that there will be 66,750 ER visits and 366,186 outpatient visits from pickleball in 2023.
Older players, which make up a third of players who play at least eight times a year, are more likely to sustain injuries from the sport than younger folks. UBS, a global financial services company, decided to investigate the issue when UnitedHealth Group, whose stock is analyzed by the firm, reported that healthcare utilization rates have skyrocketed among Medicare beneficiaries.
The authors pointed to a 2021 medical study that found that from 2010 to 2019, 86% of emergency department visits related to pickleball occurred in those over the age of 60.
The injury rate among this age group will likely continue to grow as more seniors discover the sport.
Players hit a ball back and forth on what looks like a half tennis court using large wooden paddles. Americans over 60 tend to enjoy the game because it keeps them active without putting too much strain on their bodies.
“While we generally think of exercise as positively impacting health outcomes, the ‘can-do’ attitude of today’s seniors can pose greater risk in other areas such as sports injuries, leading to a greater number of orthopedic procedures,” the analysts said in the report. “The heightened injury risk is especially true when considering that seniors’ activity levels were depressed for most of the pandemic.”
They estimated the number of pickleball players in the U.S. using data from Google Trends, which shows that Google searches for “pickleball courts” was up by 110%.
If you or someone you know over the age of 60 is getting into pickleball, do your best to avoid injury by stretching every day, wearing the proper shoes and gear, and maintaining good posture on the court.