Pickleball

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Pickleball Action - Mixed Doubles

For three straight years, pickleball has ranked as the nation's fastest-growing sport. According to USA Pickleball and the 2023 Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball participation in the United States has increased by 158.6% in the past three years1 with the number of players nearly doubling in 2022 to reach 8.9 million overall.2

Pickleball is generally thought of as a safer alternative to other racquet sports due to its small court size and relatively small area of ground required to cover. However, injury rates in similar sports like tennis, racquetball and squash have decreased over the past few years, while pickleball injury numbers have increased nearly ninefold in the past decade alone.3

The age distribution of these injuries was skewed heavily towards the geriatric population as 91% of injuries occurred in patients 50 years of age or older. Overall, the most frequent injuries were sprains/strains (33%), fractures (28%), and contusions/abrasions (11%). Injuries to the head (12%), abdomen (11%), and face (3.5%) were also reported as common injuries. These include concussions, internal injuries, and lacerations.3

Sports that use a ball, puck, bat or racquet and/or have close aggressive play with intentional or unintentional body contact and collision are at high risk for eye injuries which can be serious and may result in hospitalization, surgery, and permanent vision loss.4 The high velocity of pickleball and small court poses a significant risk for eye injuries, especially among those 65-years-old in age and older, who may not have the quickness or agility to avoid contact injury and who are particularly vulnerable to eye injuries.

Two pickleballs. Pickleball is a popular American sport played w
pickleball is played outside by senior men
Young woman playing pickleball at the pickleball court

Pickleballs are typically made of plastic that can move at high velocities. According to Pickleball Magazine, a pickleball can travel at one-third the velocity of a tennis ball, or about 40 mph. The magazine noted that when players are positioned at the non-volley zone (The seven-foot zone on each side of the net is known as the non-volley zone, more commonly referred to as “the kitchen”) it can take 350 to 400 milliseconds - less than half a second - for the ball to travel from one paddle to the other. This does not leave players any time to avoid being hit in the eye with a ball. In addition to injuries from being hit by a ball, serious damage can occur from being hit in the eye with a paddle.5

Researchers have identified certain factors that contribute to the risk of eye injuries in pickleball. People with high myopia, those who have undergone previous eye surgeries, and those with cataracts are more prone to sustaining severe eye injuries.6

As participation in pickleball increases, increasing levels of injuries, including ophthalmic injuries are being seen.  At the time of writing, no protective eyewear is mandated to play pickleball at any level. Meanwhile similar racket sports like squash and racquetball, have mandatory eyewear rules across various levels of the game.

All players, regardless of age or skill level, should consider wearing sport-appropriate protective eyewear. Everyday dresswear eyeglasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses don’t offer adequate protection to guard against potential eye injuries and can make an injury worse. The use of proper eye protection has helped to reduce the number and severity of eye injuries. More than 90% of sports- and recreation-related eye injuries can be prevented by using appropriate eye and facial protection.7

Click here for What You Should Know About Protective Eyewear.

 


References

  1. Waisberg, E., Ong, J. & Lee, A.G. Pickleball eye injuries: ocular protection recommendations and guidelines. Eye (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41433-023-02870-9
  2. SFIA topline report tabs pickleball as America’s fastest-growing sport for third consecutive year. 2023. https://usapickleball.org/news/sfia-topline-report-tabs-pickleball-as-americas-fastest-growing-sport/.
  3. Joseph Guettler, MD, Christopher Vasileff, MD, “Avoid a Pickle: Know this Booming Sport’s Perks and Pitfalls,” American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine,  https://www.sportsmed.org/membership/sports-medicine-update/fall-2023/avoid-a-pickle-know-this-booming-sports-perks-and-pitfalls, Accessed 114/2024
  4. Vitale, Kenneth MD, FACSM, Liu, Steven BS, Pickleball: Review and Clinical Recommendations for this Fast-growing Sport, Current Sports Medicine Reports: October 2020 - Volume 19 - Issue 10 - p 406-413  https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Fulltext/2020/10000/Pickleball__Review_and_Clinical_Recommendations.8.aspx
  5. “As pickleball popularity skyrockets, eye injuries from sport also on the rise,” https://www.ophthalmologytimes.com/view/as-pickleball-popularity-skyrockets-eye-injuries-from-sport-also-on-rise
  6. Weiss, H., Dougherty, J. & DiMaggio, C. Non-fatal senior pickleball and tennis-related injuries treated in United States emergency departments, 2010–2019. Inj. Epidemiol. 8, 34 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40621-021-00327-9
  7. Miller, K et al. Pediatric Sports- and Recreation-Related Eye Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments, Pediatrics, February 2018 https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/141/2/e20173083

The International Sports Vision Association is committed to helping reduce the risk of traumatic vision and head-related injuries through education about protective devices and equipment.  This important health information has been made available thanks to an educational grant provided by  Zyloware Eyewear.  Reference to any specific commercial product, process, or service does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by ISVA.