Pickleball is a fun and fast-paced sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. However, like any sport, it can also put a strain on your body, especially your shoulders. Pickleball pros know this all too well, and they have developed a number of techniques to modify their strokes and prevent shoulder injuries.
Here are some of the ways that pickleball pros modify their strokes to prevent shoulder injuries:
- Use a continental grip. This grip is more neutral than a forehand or backhand grip, and it puts less stress on your shoulder joint.
- Keep your elbow close to your body. This will help you to generate power from your core muscles rather than your shoulder muscles.
- Use a shorter backswing. A shorter backswing will put less stress on your shoulder joint and reduce the risk of injury.
- Follow through with your strokes. This will help to dissipate the force of the stroke and reduce the risk of injury.
- Warm up before you play. This will help to prepare your muscles for activity and reduce the risk of injury.
- Cool down after you play. This will help to prevent muscle soreness and stiffness.
- Strengthen your rotator cuff muscles. These muscles help to stabilize your shoulder joint and reduce the risk of injury.
- Stretch your shoulder muscles regularly. This will help to improve your flexibility and range of motion.
In addition to modifying their strokes, pickleball pros also take other steps to prevent shoulder injuries. These include:
- Using a paddle that is the right size and weight for them.
- Wearing supportive shoes.
- Playing on a court that is in good condition.
- Avoiding overuse injuries by taking breaks and cross-training.
By following these tips, you can help to prevent shoulder injuries and play pickleball pain-free.
Pickleball is a fast-growing sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, there are over 3.3 million pickleball players in the U.S. alone.
While a fun activity for players of all ages and abilities, repetitive strokes in pickleball can take a toll on joints, especially the shoulder. In fact, shoulder injuries are some of the most common in this sport.
That’s why technique and stroke modification are critical for injury prevention. Fortunately, pickleball pros have developed effective ways to adjust their strokes. Implementing these techniques enables them to continue playing at a high level while avoiding shoulder pain.
In this article, we’ll explore the top stroke modifications pickleball pros make to prevent shoulder injuries and keep playing pain-free.
Common Pickleball Shoulder Injuries
The shoulder is a complex joint made up of numerous muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It’s designed for mobility to allow a wide range of motion. However, this also makes it susceptible to overuse injuries.
Common pickleball shoulder problems include:
- Rotator cuff strains. The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint. Repeated overhead motions, like serves and smashes, can lead to painful strains.
- Impingement. When the rotator cuff tendons rub against the bony acromion in the shoulder, it causes irritation and inflammation. Pickleball’s repetitive overhead moves exacerbate this.
- Biceps tendinitis. The biceps connect the shoulder and elbow. Aggressive strokes like spikes can cause microtears and inflammation where the biceps attaches at the shoulder.
- Labral tears. The labrum is a ring of cartilage that lines and reinforces the shoulder socket. Intense pickleball play can cause this cartilage to fray or tear.
Without proper stroke adjustments, these injuries may worsen and cause chronic shoulder pain. Let’s look at techniques the pros use to avoid these issues.
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However, using just the forehand and continental grips can place extra strain on the shoulder over time. That’s why many pros switch up their grips to distribute force more evenly.
Utilize a Two-Handed Backhand
Rather than using a one-handed backhand stroke, many pros opt for a two-handed backhand instead.
Gripping the paddle with both hands allows you to generate power from your core and upper body rather than relying solely on your shoulder. It also improves control and stability on backhand shots.
To execute a two-handed backhand:
- Adopt a neutral stance with knees slightly bent.
- Hold the paddle grip with your dominant hand and place the non-dominant hand alongside it.
- As the ball approaches, rotate your core and trunk towards the target.
- Swing the paddle using force from both arms and upper body rotation – don’t isolate the shoulder.
- Follow through over your shoulder toward your non-dominant side.
Utilizing two hands helps take stress off the dominant shoulder during backhands.
Use a Semi-Western Forehand Grip
While the forehand grip is common, it promotes shoulder internal rotation to generate power. The semi-western forehand grip limits internal shoulder rotation while still allowing solid forehand strikes.
To use a semi-western forehand grip:
- Hold the paddle so your palm wraps around the handle.
- Place your index knuckle on the paddle’s 5-6 o’clock position.
- Keep your thumb relaxed alongside the grip.
- Make contact out in front of your body.
- Swing through the ball with your core and legs, not just your shoulder.
This grip shifts some stress off the shoulder joint while maintaining forehand control.
Along with grip adjustments, pros alter their actual stroke techniques to prevent overuse. Let’s explore some of their go-to modifications.
Shorten Your Backswing
A long backswing requires considerable shoulder mobility and rotation to whip the paddle through the ball. Shortening your backswing reduces these movements.
To shorten your backswing:
- Limit your backswing to about shoulder height on groundstrokes. Any higher engages unnecessary shoulder motion.
- On serves, eliminate the high backswing completely. Simply drop the paddle head behind you and smoothly swing up into the serve.
- On overheads, a slight backswing for timing is fine. But avoid taking the paddle far overhead, which adds more stress.
Keeping a compact backswing minimizes shoulder joint forces while still allowing solid contact.
Follow Through Below Shoulder Height
Just like the backswing, follow through height impacts shoulder stress. Following through high requires added shoulder mobility and rotation.
To prevent this, keep your follow through below shoulder height. As you make contact with the ball, swing through so your paddle finishes around waist level rather than above your shoulder.
This reduces how much your shoulder must open up, decreasing impingement and strain. Make sure to engage your core and trunk, not just your shoulder, as you follow through.
Apply the “Inside-Out” Technique
On forehand shots down the line, many players open their shoulder fully by rotating their upper arm outward. Repeating this movement can irritate the front of the shoulder.
The “inside-out” forehand technique keeps the shoulder safer:
- Set up sideways with closed shoulders and hips.
- As you swing, rotate your core and trunk through the ball rather than opening your shoulder outwards.
- Make contact with your arm tucked close to your body rather than extended outwards.
- Follow through with your arm across your body rather than opening completely.
This protects the front of the shoulder while still allowing powerful forehand strokes.
Serve with Proper Form
Use proper technique to take pressure off the shoulder:
- Start sideways and rotate your core back as you drop the paddle head behind you. Don’t open your shoulder back.
- Toss the ball out in front of your shoulder – not behind your head!
- Initiate the swing by engaging your core and trunk, not your shoulder only.
- Contact the ball with a slight forward trunk flexion rather than reaching back.
- Follow through below shoulder height.
These cues help generate power from the larger muscles so the shoulder isn’t overburdened.
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Along with stroke adjustments, pros supplement their training smartly to prevent shoulder issues.
Perform Rotator Cuff and Scapular Stabilization Exercises
The rotator cuff and scapular muscles play a key role in healthy shoulder function. Strengthening these muscles provides stability and balances the shoulder joint.
Try exercises like external rotation, internal rotation, scaption raises, and prone Y raises. Focus on quality movement rather than heavy weight.
Aim to perform 10-15 reps of 2-3 sets for each exercise 2-3 times per week. This will enhance strength and endurance in the stabilizers.
Stretch the Shoulder Regularly
Flexibility is critical for injury prevention. Tight chest, shoulder, and lat muscles can restrict mobility and contribute to poor mechanics.
Be sure to stretch these muscle groups regularly, especially after playing:
- Crossover arm stretches open the chest and front of the shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
- The corner stretch targets the lats and posterior shoulder. Reach one arm up overhead and lean into a corner. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
- Use a doorway to stretch your internal rotators. Rotate your arm outward and grasp the door frame. Lean forward gently until you feel a mild stretch in the back of your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
Aim to stretch for 5-10 minutes daily focusing on tight areas. This will preserve shoulder mobility.
Cross-Train With Low-Impact Activities
Pickleball is hard on the shoulder joints due to repetitive overhead motions. Complementing it with low-impact cross-training gives your shoulders a break.
Excellent options include:
- Elliptical training
Aim for 30-60 minutes of low-impact cardio 2-3 times per week. This maintains fitness while letting your shoulders recover.
Know When To Seek Help
While stroke adjustments can prevent many shoulder problems, injuries still happen. Recognizing when to get help ensures you address issues before they worsen.
See a physical therapist or doctor if you experience:
- Sharp shoulder pain during play
- Soreness or stiffness lasting over 1 week
- Noticeable weakness or discomfort with overhead motions
- Shoulder clicking, grinding, or popping
A physical therapist can evaluate your shoulder mobility, strength, and mechanics to pinpoint dysfunctions. They may use modalities like manual therapy, dry needling, or kinesiology taping alongside an exercise program to rehab your shoulder.
For severe shoulder injuries like labral tears, surgery may be required. Seeking prompt treatment maximizes your chances of returning to pain-free pickleball.
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Play On Pain-Free
Pickleball provides fantastic exercise along with fun competition and social interaction for players of all ages. However, injuries can sideline even seasoned players.
Implementing proper stroke modifications enables pros to enjoy this great sport for years while avoiding shoulder issues. Follow their lead by using safer grips, shortening your backswing, improving stroke mechanics, cross-training, and stretching regularly.
Pay attention to warning signs and seek professional help when needed. With smart training and self-care, you can keep your shoulders feeling great and continue playing this fast-growing sport pain-free.