A Safe Approach to Pickleball

Published - Apr 26, 2024

By Anne Dahlin, OTR/L, CHT, hand and occupational therapist
at IRG Physical & Hand Therapy – Frederickson

Pickleball was invented on Bainbridge Island in 1965 but is quickly becoming increasingly popular today. Paddles, an open, large and flat driveway, athletic attire and tennis shoes, and of course, an actual pickleball are all you need to start. Hold on – is that it?! Like any sport, reading up on the rules of the game can help get your mind and body connected to the task and prevent injuries.

Properly pursued, pickleball is an excellent, enjoyable and low-impact cardiovascular exercise; regular cardiovascular workouts are known to improve cognition, reduce anxiety, help maintain a healthy weight, reduce cardiovascular and diabetes risks, strengthen bones, and build up muscles and endurance.[i]

Older pickleball players – as well as newbies – to regular athletic activity need to learn the basics of sports safety: meticulous attention to warm-ups and stretching, devoting days of the week to rest with no play at all, consistent hydration, healthful eating habits, cross-training, and paying attention to the body. While pickleball may seem like an easy sport to learn and play, proper techniques, such as how to hold the paddle, can minimize the risk of injury. For example, good pickleball form encourages players to hit the ball below the waist, which minimizes stress on the wrist. Pickleball players do not have to be in good physical condition to enjoy the sport, but avid players should develop a well-rounded physical exercise routine to get in shape as regular and competitive play does require a certain level of fitness for injury prevention.

Pickleball may be a public health model for physical activity among previously sedentary populations. A 2021 study examined the effects of pickleball among 21 senior citizens living in a rural community. Participants learned to play pickleball and participated in regular matches over a six-week period, during which participants improved physical and cognitive health and reported diminished pain.[ii] In fact, participants were eager to continue their pickleball play after the intervention concluded. The combination of socialization with physical activity appears to be a good combination as is the fact that pickleball is an inclusive sport that does not make seniors feel unable to keep up.

Pickleball’s combination of accessibility, social engagement and physical benefits makes it an attractive option for people of all ages. If you are previously sedentary and want a designed program to get you back on the court to pursue self-improvement, visit IRG Physical & Hand Therapy programs. Therapists will partner in your health journey to assess the root cause of your pain and/or weakness and come up with creative solutions, such as custom inserts, to help you overcome difficulty in holding or gripping a paddle. If your body is preventing you from participating in activity, do not assume it is the aging process! Find out why, and let us help you get back in the game of life.


Anne Dahlin, OTR/L, CHT, is a hand and occupational therapist at IRG Physical & Hand Therapy – Frederickson specialized training in custom splinting, desensitization/sensory reeducation, hand therapy, orthotic fabrication, post-operative care, scar management, IASTM and taping.

Learn more about service offerings at IRG here, including physical therapy, hand therapy, massage therapy, performance enhancement, athletic training and more.

[i] More than 1 in 4 US adults over 50 do not engage in regular physical activity. [ Jul; 2023 ]. 2016. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/more-than-1-in-4-us-adults-over-50-do-not-engage-in-regular-physical-activity-300328407.html

[ii] Pickleball for inactive mid-life and older adults in rural Utah: a feasibility study. Wray P, Ward CK, Nelson C, et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18:8374. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]