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Is Pickleball Bad for the Spine?

pickleball paddles and ballsMany people play pickleball because it’s not one of those overly demanding sports that seem more likely to leave us injured and sidelined. But the fact is that pickleball has the potential to cause various types of injuries, including injuries to the spine and shoulders.

Types of Back and Spine Injuries from Playing Pickleball:

Low Back Pain

Low back pain is among the most common chronic injuries associated with pickleball. Several factors make it prevalent among pickleball players:

  • In most racket sports, players are encouraged to step through the ball and follow through with the legs to maintain an upright position. However, in pickleball, players often lean forward, which puts a significant amount of force on the low back muscles and intervertebral discs. Especially for those with poor spine and hip mobility and stability, this is a concern.
  • Instead of bending their knees, many players bend their backs and twist simultaneously to hit a dink, which is a soft shot that barely gets over the net. Such a posture places more force on the spine.

Disc-Related Injuries

The lumbar spine consists of five vertebrae, with an intervertebral disc forming a joint between each vertebral body. Severe or repeated injuries can cause the annular fibers within the disc to herniate (protrude) or rupture (tear), leading to intense pain to the adjacent spinal nerves and surrounding soft tissue

Muscle and Ligament Sprains

There are also the issues of possible muscle and ligament sprains because the repetition of biomechanically disadvantaged movements in the lumbar spine can lead to injuries such as muscle strains and ligament sprains.

Facet Joint Dysfunctions, Disc Bulges, Disc Herniations, and Compression Fractures

are also some of the serious conditions that can arise due to the repetitive movements and postures in pickleball. Each of these conditions requires specialized treatments, and those experiencing symptoms should consult a healthcare professional.


The prevention of these injuries focuses primarily on the strengthening of core muscles and ensuring stability around the lumbar spine. Dynamic core stabilization exercises that cater to the specific demands of pickleball are key in preventing low back pain. The strength of abdominal or core muscles plays a significant role in aiding the stability of the lower back and pelvic region. It’s also important to stretch and strengthen areas like the hamstrings to reduce pelvic tilt.

Types of Shoulder Pain in Pickleball Players

In addition to issues with the spine, pickleball also causes problems with the shoulder. The most common type is shoulder impingement. It can result due to the pinching of tendons or bursae caused by chronic conditions such as arthritis. In other cases, impingement results from overuse and repetitive motions, especially when people play pickleball with shoulders that lack strength and stability.

There are also potential Rotator Cuff problems. The rotator cuff is a complex structure comprised of ligaments, tendons, and muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint and facilitate a wide range of shoulder motions. Due to pickleball’s repetitive movements and arm motions, inflammation can occur within the rotator cuff, leading to conditions like bursitis or tendonitis. Over time, small tears in the rotator cuff can result in larger, more painful tears. The rotator cuff is prone to injuries, especially in older players, so everyday use can result in tears and damage. 

Prevention and Treatment of Shoulder Injuries

One recommended treatment for shoulder impingement is physical therapy. A physical therapist can assist in strengthening and stabilizing the shoulder area and educate patients about movement techniques to prevent future injuries.

To minimize the risk of injuries, it’s crucial to maintain shoulder mobility and strength. Players should engage in a routine of stretches and strength exercises. These can include arm circles, wrist circles, and arm swings as warm-up exercises before a game. Weight training can also help in preventing injuries by fortifying the muscles surrounding the shoulder.

If you experience pain after playing, it’s vital not to push through it. A few days of rest and applying ice can help. Anti-inflammatory medications can also be beneficial in reducing pain and inflammation

In cases where pain persists or if there is a tendon tear, surgery may be recommended. The most common procedure for this type of pain is subacromial decompression (SAD). This operation involves removing bone tissue to enlarge the space in the ball-and-socket shoulder joint, helping to alleviate the pain in the rotator cuff [1]. For torn rotator cuffs, the only way to truly repair them is through surgery. Post-surgery, the primary goal is to return patients to their previous activity levels.

While pickleball is a beneficial and fun activity, players should be aware of potential shoulder injuries. Proper preventive measures, including stretching and strength training, can help minimize risks. If you experience chronic shoulder pain, consulting a healthcare professional is crucial to ensure appropriate treatment and to avoid further complications.

Here are a few good sites with prevention suggestions:






*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery