As is true of most racket sports, pickleball puts a lot of stress on your lower body. Moving around the court requires a lot of balance, leg strength, and stamina, all of which set you up to win games during matchplay.
We’ve touched on a variety of pickleball-related injuries, from Achilles tendinopathy to hip tear/bursitis, but we want to now key in on a pivotal (literally) part of your legs: the knees. Knee pain is one of the most debilitating leg injuries; if you can’t bend your knees, you can’t move. Period.
Jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis) and runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome) are two of pickleball’s most common overuse injuries. Both occur from the cartilage and tendons in your knee becoming irritated and swollen from constant use on the pickleball court. Typically, you’ll feel a sharp pain while running, jumping, and generally bending your knee, which inhibits your ability to perform to your full potential.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help prevent and recover from such injuries, and today, we will highlight some of our favorite techniques!
Bodyweight Tibialis Raises
As demonstrated in Brady’s video, tibialis raises strengthen your knees in order to help prevent impact injuries associated with split-stepping at the kitchen line. Slowing down and stopping while moving around the court is a big part of positioning yourself to make big plays, so sharply bracing your knees for impact is a common occurrence that your body should be prepared for.
Fortunately, this is a relatively straightforward exercise that only requires a wall, such as the fence at your local outdoor pickleball courts!
- From a standing position, lean back against a wall with your feet positioned slightly out in front of you, starting with them about a foot’s length away from the wall.
- In this position, raise your toes upwards towards the sky in a quick, controlled motion, then put them back on the ground to the starting position.
- Repeat this process 8-10 times or until fatigue, completing 3-5 sets with a couple of minutes rest in between each set.
- Try to increase the number of reps you do with each set when possible – this will allow you to build considerable knee strength and lower-body endurance while on the court!
Standing Quadriceps Stretches
Standing quadriceps stretches are a two-for-one since they’re focused on stretching out your quads but also have the added benefit of completely bending your knees for a few seconds at a time!
- Stand on the floor with your feet spread apart at approximate shoulder width.
- While standing straight, bend your right knee, bringing your heel towards your butt.
- Reach back and grab your foot, slowly pulling backward as far as your leg will allow, and hold that position for 5-8 seconds.
- Allow your right leg to return to the ground before switching to the left leg. Repeat this process, allowing for 8-10 reps for each leg.
Laying Knee Stretches
This is one of the simplest and most intuitive ways of stretching your knees. It allows them to open up and tolerate more angular movements.
- Lay down on your back, allowing your legs to rest in a comfortable, slightly bent position with your feet flat on the ground.
- Bring your right leg across the left as shown, with the right ankle resting above the left knee.
- Grab your left leg at the back of the thigh with both hands and slowly pull it towards your chest until it is straight up in the air. Hold this position for five seconds before slowly moving back to the starting position.
- Switch legs, and repeat this process for 8-10 reps for each leg.
Rest, Ice, and Heat
If you’re already dealing with a knee injury or pain, the biggest factor to your recovery will be getting a lot of rest and icing the injury. While you might want to try pushing yourself through the injury and continue to hit the court, this will often just allow the pain to persist and potentially even lead to more serious complications.
Icing and Heating your injury also has a lot of inherent benefits during recovery. According to Guthrie Healthcare, icing your knee after play will decrease the blood flow in that area, relieving inflammation and pain. Ice is typically most helpful within the first 24 hours of the pain and should be applied in 20-minute intervals.
Using a hot water bottle or heating pad on your knee increases blood flow, which makes it easier for oxygen and key nutrients to reach your knee joints. It also helps loosen the muscles and joints in general, relieving swelling, pain, and muscle spasms.
You should always be cautious when heating your joints, making sure that the temperature isn’t too high that you could suffer burns. Heating should be done in 10-20-minute intervals to ensure your safety.
Brady’s video shows that compression should be used as a recovery tool, not as a crutch on your road to recovery. Compression knee sleeves function similarly to icing/heating your injuries by helping increase blood flow and reducing inflammation; however, overuse injuries won’t heal if you continue to play on an already injured knee.
According to a study by the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Malaya, the researchers concluded that improvements were seen in their twenty case studies. Twelve of the twenty studies observed balance and functional improvements, leading them to believe that while people have seen recovery progress from using compression gear, they aren’t a 100% guaranteed way of resolving your injury.
That being said, if you’re at a point in your recovery where you want to start hitting the courts again, you should wear compression sleeves to help support your knee while jumping back into pickleball. The bottom line is that compression gear serves as a means to stabilize your joints during a period of recovery, allowing you to recover quicker; thus, they help facilitate recovery but shouldn’t be the sole means of healing.
Of the compression gear on the market, we currently recommend checking out OS1st’s line of sleeves. They currently have their KS7 and KS7+ Adjustable Performance Knee Sleeves, both of which offer the benefits of some heavier braces, such as reducing joint fatigue, pain, and swelling.
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