As pickleball continues to grow rapidly among a wide range of demographics, so do the polarizing views of the sport.
Ask anyone who enjoys playing, and they’ll tell you it’s fun, inclusive, and great for one’s physical and mental health. But with more people participating, including seniors, there is growing concern among health officials it is putting a burden on health care costs.
Pickleball could be a major culprit in injuries leading to an increase in people using healthcare services—news that caused big health insurance companies’ shares to fall earlier this month—according to UBS analysts. https://t.co/RiLRsbBQ9F pic.twitter.com/VSprYBGEnk— Forbes (@Forbes) June 28, 2023
Earlier this week, UBS Group AG analysts released a report offering an explanation for the rise of sports injuries: playing pickleball.
According to the group, injuries related to pickleball could cost Americans $377 million in health care costs this year, with “injury-prone” seniors the leading culprit. The report estimates such injuries account for 5- to 10% of total unexpected medical costs.
“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.”UBS Group AG Reports
There’s more. According to a 2021 PubMed study, the annual number of pickleball injuries among seniors reached parity with senior tennis-related injuries. From 2010-2019, 86% of emergency department visits for injuries related to pickleball occurred in people over 60 years old.
At first glance, one would think we have a major health crisis, and that seniors should stick to bingo, cards, or checkers. Before hitting the panic button and putting your pickleball equipment on eBay or Nextdoor, let’s step back a moment and take a deep breath.
There is plenty of evidence pointing to the consequences of being physically inactive. In a 2022 global report, the World Health Organization predicts that nearly 500 million people will suffer from obesity, heart disease and other noncommunicable diseases between 2020 and 2030.
If governments around the world don’t encourage more physical activity among their populations, costs could rise as high as $27 billion. The report measures government implementations based on a wide range of ages and abilities.
A Reuters news story indicated slow progress in what a group of international researchers called a “pandemic of physical activity.” While this study was conducted in 2016, it does mention some interesting points that are still relevant today.
One of the researchers, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences and Cambridge University, said WHO’s recommendations for 150 minutes of moderate exercise may not be enough to offset the estimated 5 million deaths a year caused by a sedentary lifestyle.
The professor, Ulf Ekelund, acknowledged a person doesn’t have to take up sports or go to a gym to get adequate exercise. He recommended walking 5.6 kilometers (3.48 miles) an hour or cycling 16 kilometers (9.94 miles) an hour.
What about those who want to do more than take a brisk walk or do sit-ups? One of the biggest factors associated with sports injuries is the lack of proper warmups before physical activity.
Pickleball is no exception. Many people are so eager to get out on the court, they either forget or neglect to warm up before and wind down after playing.
As Pickleball Trips pointed out in an article on stretching and warm-up exercises, “We all know we should stretch more. But pickleball is so darn fun we want to jump on the court and start playing. Stretching prevents injury, helps recovery, and can improve performance, though.”
Another aspect is failing to consult with a doctor before committing to an exercise program or playing a sport. Not everyone is physically capable of certain types of body movements, which can often lead to muscle pulls, strains or fractures. It’s always best to consult a medical professional before undertaking pickleball or any activity.
As the UBS report cited, the sport is growing by leaps and bounds. A 150% jump in participants is expected by the end of this year, to more than 22.3 million.
Of that number, UBS estimates seniors make up about a third of “core players”, those who play a minimum of eight times a year. As more people sign up to play, it stands to reason injury statistics will continue to rise.
Pickleball has its share of critics. But before naysayers use the research as another way of knocking the sport, keep in mind there are risks to any physical activity. Consulting with a trusted medical professional and taking steps to minimize those risks is certainly preferable to giving up and sitting on the couch.
For more information about what can cause pickleball-related injuries and how to prevent them, be sure to check out our article dedicated to the topic.
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