Yes, you can play pickleball with tennis elbow, but it is important to take precautions and make modifications to avoid exacerbating the condition. Tennis elbow, also known as pickleball elbow in the context of pickleball, is a painful condition that occurs on the outside of the elbow and is caused by repetitive motion and overuse.
What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow, known medically as lateral epicondylitis, is characterized by pain and inflammation on the outside of the elbow. It is caused by overuse and repetitive strain to the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bone on the outside of the elbow.
The condition gets its name from the fact that it is commonly associated with playing tennis. However, any activity that involves repetitive gripping or wrist extension, such as pickleball, golf, or even manual labor, can lead to tennis elbow.
The main symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Pain on the outside of the elbow that worsens with activity
- Tenderness or soreness on the bony bump on the outside of the elbow
- Weakened grip strength and difficulty grasping objects
- Pain that radiates down the forearm
The pain associated with tennis elbow usually starts out mild but can worsen over time without proper rest and treatment. Pain is typically felt in specific spots like the lateral epicondyle (bony area on the outside of the elbow) and may radiate down the forearm towards the wrist.
Causes and Risk Factors
Tennis elbow is often caused by repetitive arm, wrist, and hand motions that overload the muscles and tendons in the forearm. Motions like a backhand swing in tennis, underhand throwing motion in pickleball, and repetitive gripping actions strain these tissues over time.
Factors that can increase your risk for developing tennis elbow include:
- Playing racquet sports like tennis, squash, racquetball, badminton, and pickleball
- Improper technique and mechanics when playing sports
- Using heavy or vibrating tools like gardening shears, screwdrivers, jackhammers
- Jobs that involve repetitive gripping and wrist motions
- Age between 35-55 years old
- Previous injury to the elbow
You are more likely to suffer from tennis elbow if you abruptly increase the intensity of your training regimen or sports participation without proper conditioning.
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How Does Tennis Elbow Relate to Pickleball?
The repetitive arm motions required in pickleball can lead to overuse injuries like tennis elbow. The underhand serve, dinking, swinging, and gripping the paddle all involve repetitive forearm, wrist, and hand movements.
As pickleball has exploded in popularity, there has been an increase in overuse injuries like tennis elbow among recreational players. The condition is now frequently referred to as “pickleball elbow” when it occurs as a result of playing pickleball.
Some key factors that raise injury risk in pickleball include:
- Improper paddle grip size
- Overgripping the paddle
- Poor stroke mechanics like excessive wrist bending
- Insufficient wrist strength
- Playing too intensely, especially when fatigued
Beginners are at high risk as their muscles and tendons are not conditioned for the repetitive motions required in pickleball. Ensuring proper technique, grip size, and pacing playtime is crucial for injury prevention.
Can You Play Pickleball with Tennis Elbow?
Many players wonder if they should stop playing pickleball completely when experiencing tennis elbow pain. The answer is yes, you can potentially continue playing with proper precautions in place. However, it depends on the severity of your symptoms.
Mild cases may be able to keep playing with modifications to reduce strain on the elbow. However, if you have severe, persistent pain it is best to take a break from pickleball until the injury is resolved. Playing through moderate or severe elbow pain can worsen the condition.
Here are some tips for playing pickleball with tennis elbow:
1. Rest and Recovery
It is important to give your elbow time to rest and recover. Avoid playing pickleball or engaging in activities that aggravate the pain until the symptoms subside.
Take breaks between matches or drills to let your arm rest. Start back slowly once pain has decreased. Complete rest from activity is often needed in severe cases of tennis elbow.
2. Proper Grip Size
Ensure that you are using the correct grip size for your paddle. A grip that is too small or too large can put additional strain on your forearm muscles and worsen the symptoms of tennis elbow.
Have your grip size measured and ask for padding or overgrips if needed. It may also help to switch to a lightweight composite paddle rather than a heavier wooden one.
3. Stretch and Warm-up
Before playing pickleball, gently stretch and warm up your arm and elbow muscles to reduce the risk of injury and minimize strain on the tendons.
Do gentle stretches for the forearm flexors and extensors as well as the wrist. Move the elbow joint through its full range of motion. Dynamic warm-ups with a light paddle can help increase blood flow.
4. Modify Your Technique
Pay attention to your mechanics and make adjustments to your technique to minimize stress on the elbow. This includes using proper form and avoiding excessive wrist movement.
Focus on control and finesse over power. Let your arm be relaxed rather than rigid. Minimize repetitive slices and chops which require more wrist flexing.
5. Use Elbow Support
Consider using an elbow brace or support to provide additional stability and reduce strain on the tendons. This can help alleviate pain and provide support during play.
Look for a brace that compresses and supports the muscles without restricting mobility. Work with a sports medicine professional for best recommendations.
6. Ice and Rest
After playing pickleball, apply ice to your elbow to reduce inflammation and pain. Resting and allowing your elbow to recover between sessions is crucial for healing.
Use an ice pack or cold compress for 10-15 minutes after activity. Allow 48 hours between pickleball sessions to give your elbow adequate rest.
7. Seek Professional Help
If you are experiencing persistent or severe pain, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist who can provide personalized advice and treatment options.
Treatments may include massage, ultrasound therapy, tape, custom braces, exercises, dry needling, injections, and more. Getting an accurate diagnosis is key.
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Treatment and Prevention
Using the proper treatment and prevention strategies can help you continue playing pickleball safely with tennis elbow. Here are some top tips:
- Rest – Take breaks from any activity that aggravates your elbow to allow healing.
- Ice – Apply ice packs to reduce pain and swelling.
- OTC medication – Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can ease pain.
- Bracing – Wear an elbow brace during play for compression and support.
- Physical therapy – Stretching, massage, and exercises can aid recovery.
- Technique modification – Fix improper mechanics like poor wrist alignment.
- Training adaptation – Gradually increase playing time and intensity.
- Equipment adjustment – Ensure proper paddle size, weight, grip size.
Preventing injuries through proper preparation is also key. Always warm up arm and shoulder muscles before play. Strengthen your arm and core muscles. Stay hydrated and consume nutritious foods. Listen to warning signs from your elbow and avoid overuse.
When to See a Doctor?
It is recommended to consult a doctor or sports medicine specialist if:
- Elbow pain lasts longer than 2 weeks
- Pain worsens despite rest
- Pain interferes with daily activities
- You experience tingling or numbness in the arm/hand
- Treatments like ice, rest, medication provide no relief
Seeking professional medical advice can help diagnose the exact cause of elbow pain and rule out other potentially serious conditions like nerve damage. Customized treatment plans can then be created for optimal recovery.
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Playing Pickleball Safely with Tennis Elbow: Key Takeaways
- Mild cases may be able play with proper modifications and precautions
- Severe, persistent pain requires complete rest from sport
- Use appropriate grip size, lightweight paddle
- Focus on technique adjustments like less wrist bending
- Wear supportive brace and warm up muscles
- Apply ice after play and get adequate rest
- See a doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment
- Gradually return to play as symptoms improve
- Stop activity if elbow pain worsens
The bottom line is that you can potentially keep playing pickleball with tennis elbow if you take preventative steps, listen to your body, and don’t overdo activities. However, be ready to take a break if elbow pain becomes severe. Work closely with healthcare professionals and coaches to continue playing the sport you love safely.