Pickleball Shoulder Pain: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Est. Reading: 5 minutes

Without a doubt, pickleball continues to be a phenomenal sport in the United States and has been spreading elsewhere. However, like other physical sports, pickleball players may experience some injuries, such as shoulder pain and injuries.

Apparently, shoulder pain during pickleball does not only happen to seniors. This guide will give you ideas on the causes of pickleball-related shoulder injuries. You will also learn their symptoms, treatments, and some prevention tips.

What is the Most Common Shoulder Injury in Pickleball?

According to USA Pickleball, shoulder impingement is very common among pickleball players. Also called rotator cuff tendinitis, this shoulder injury occurs when the rotator cuff tendons get squeezed between your shoulder bones. It’s like forcing an oversized truck to pass through a small tunnel. If you do, its body will rub on the tunnel’s wall.

As the Cleveland Clinic describes, the rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that connects the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone. It is one of the most critical components of the shoulder, and we use it to raise and rotate our arms. Because of its location, the rotator cuff is susceptible to being pinched between our shoulder bones.

Types of Rotator Cuff Injuries

There are two types of rotator cuff injuries: strain and tear. Both can happen to our shoulders due to pickleball, but in different ways. Knowing them and their differences can help you understand the required treatment.

Rotator Cuff Strain

The tendons in our shoulders are stretchable but can become overextended and damaged due to overuse and repetitive movements. In addition to playing pickleball or other sports, strains occur in different activities, including lifting heavy objects and sleeping awkwardly. Fortunately, most strains are not considered dangerous.

Rotator Cuff Tear

A rotator cuff tear is the actual tearing of one or more tendons on the shoulder. The tearing can be partial or full, wherein the rotator cuff tendon is completely separated from the bone. A direct blow to the shoulder usually causes it. Hence, rotator cuff tears are more severe than strains. Moreover, some patients don’t show significant symptoms.

Causes of Shoulder Pain in Pickleball

In pickleball, players must move in different directions and do repetitive motions. Despite being slower than tennis, some plays can be intense and require quicker movements. Some players are also more prone to shoulder pain than others. But in general, here are some causes of shoulder injuries in pickleball.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries in pickleball usually occur to beginners in paddle sports and people who used to play the sport but have stopped for a long time. They can also be due to overtraining (lack of rest), prior injury, poor conditioning, or the player’s age. Usually, these players start to feel the pain or discomfort but ignore it.

Poor Form During Play

Being in a poor ready position and using improper techniques while hitting the ball can cause shoulder injuries or discomfort. Aside from making challenging returns and unforgiving drop shots, some players fall and land on their shoulders, which can lead to severe shoulder injuries. Such incidents can happen to any player, including beginners.

Excessive Stress

Some matches are intense, and you are challenged to push your limits. However, our shoulders can only take so much. Aggressive paddle swinging causes too much stress, which our bodies can no longer bear. It typically occurs when volleying or blocking powerful shots. Repetitive dinking looks slow but also abuses your back and shoulders. 

Lack of Warm-up

Lack of conditioning or stretching before playing can also make your shoulders more susceptible to injury. It’s like driving a car with a weak battery or a soldier going to war without a shield or armor. Even if you’re a regular player, you may also suffer from shoulder pain if you don’t do warm-up exercises before the game.

Shoulder Injury Symptoms

Shoulder injuries may or may not have symptoms. In some cases, you’ll not know until it’s already severe. Nonetheless, below are some signs that you should be aware of:

  • Difficulties in combing your hair
  • Inability to reach behind your back
  • Weakening arms
  • Popping sensation during shoulder movements
  • Disturb sleep due to intense pain
  • Sudden swelling or redness of shoulders

Pickleball Shoulder Pain Treatments

Treating shoulder pain after playing pickleball depends on several factors. Only a healthcare professional can decide on what treatment you should undergo. But to give an idea, here are some of them:

Rest Your Shoulders

If you did not fall on your shoulders and can tolerate the pain, don’t push them. Rest for a few days, avoid heavy activities, and closely monitor the condition. Resting your shoulders enables your body to initiate healing, but it does not necessarily mean you’ll be healed completely. You still need to go to a physical therapist for proper treatment.

Home Treatment

Mild shoulder strains can be treated at home. If your shoulder joints are swollen, your doctor may advise you to apply ice to the affected area. To reduce the pain, you may take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen. Note, however, that such medicines have potential side effects but are not dangerous.

Physical Therapy

In some cases, you may need to consult a physical therapist. Although the pain will not go away on its own, an individualized rehabilitation program can guide you to recovery. Your therapist may recommend hands-on therapy, ice or heat therapy, stretching and strengthening exercises, joint mobilization, or therapeutic ultrasound.

Surgical Repair 

If the pain doesn’t go away after a few weeks, you should consult a shoulder specialist. This time, surgical interventions may be necessary. This treatment option is typically recommended for torn rotator cuff. For partial tears, an open surgical repair may fix your shoulders. However, a tendon transfer procedure may be necessary if they are severely damaged.

Shoulder Injury Preventive Tips

Truth be told, shoulder pain is part of playing pickleball and cannot be avoided. However, there are some ways to reduce the risk. 

Strengthen Your Shoulders

Regular exercise is the key to having more muscular shoulders, even if you’re not preparing for a game. Common shoulder exercises include lateral raises, banded external rotation, banded front raise, and pendulum circles. But remember, consistency is key.

Warm-up Exercises

Warming up before the game doesn’t necessarily need to be complicated. You can start by simply rolling your shoulders forward and backward a few times. You can also pull your arm across your chest with your other hand. You can do the same to your other arm.

Start Slowly

Don’t get too excited if you haven't been playing pickleball. If you are used to playing five times a week, start with once a week and gradually increase it. In short, take one game at a time. If you’re a beginner, don’t rush to learn everything in one week.

Proper Posture

Always practice proper posture even if you play regularly. Play lightly and avoid using too much force or overextending your reach. More importantly, avoid aggressive players during your first games, especially if you have undergone therapy or treatment.

If you need some shoulder exercises, watch the very educational tutorial video below by Doctor Jo.

Final Thoughts

Again, don’t ignore simple shoulder pain. Rest your shoulders if you start feeling uneasy. If you have to lose a rally to prevent hurting your shoulder, so be it. If you lose the game, better luck next time. If you keep pressuring your shoulders, that might be your last game. Remember, pickleball was created for fun, not for injuries.

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