6 Red Flags Your Pickleball Shoulder Injury Needs Medical Attention STAT, According To Doctors

6 Red Flags Your Pickleball Shoulder Injury Needs Medical Attention STAT, According To Doctors

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Pickleball is a fun and popular sport, but it can also be hard on your body, especially your shoulders. If you’re experiencing any of the following red flags, it’s important to see a doctor right away to get your shoulder injury properly diagnosed and treated.

1. Severe pain: If you’re experiencing severe pain in your shoulder, especially if it’s accompanied by swelling or bruising, this could be a sign of a serious injury such as a rotator cuff tear or a fracture.

2. Difficulty moving your arm: If you’re unable to move your arm normally, or if you experience a sudden loss of strength or range of motion, this could be a sign of a serious injury.

3. A popping or snapping sound: If you hear a popping or snapping sound in your shoulder when you move it, this could be a sign of a torn tendon or ligament.

4. Numbness or tingling: If you experience numbness or tingling in your arm or hand, this could be a sign of nerve damage.

5. Pain that radiates down your arm: If you experience pain that radiates down your arm, this could be a sign of a pinched nerve or a herniated disc.

6. Pain that doesn’t improve with rest: If your shoulder pain doesn’t improve with rest, or if it gets worse over time, this is a sign that you need to see a doctor.

If you’re experiencing any of these red flags, it’s important to see a doctor right away to get your shoulder injury properly diagnosed and treated. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent further injury and ensure a faster recovery.

Pickleball is an incredibly fun and social sport that has exploded in popularity in recent years. However, with its quick motions like serves, volleys, and smashes, it can take a real toll on your shoulders. As an avid pickleball player, it’s important to know the signs of a serious shoulder injury so you can get prompt medical treatment. Ignoring symptoms and trying to “play through the pain” will likely make the injury worse.

Shoulder injuries are very common in pickleball. According to Dr. Jonathan Fass, an orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, “the quick flicking motion used on dinks and quick shoulder rotation during serves” can lead to shoulder issues. The most frequent shoulder problems he sees in pickleball players are rotator cuff tears, bicep tendonitis, shoulder instability, and SLAP tears.

So when should you seek immediate medical attention for a pickleball-related shoulder injury? Here are 6 red flags to watch out for, according to doctors and physical therapists who specialize in treating overhead athletes.

1. You Hear a “Popping” Sound in Your Shoulder

If you suddenly feel or hear a popping sensation in your shoulder while playing pickleball, stop immediately. This pop likely indicates a serious injury like a torn rotator cuff or labrum.

“A popping feeling or sound usually means a significant tear has occurred in the rotator cuff tendon or labrum cartilage,” explains Dr. Mark Hutchinson, an orthopedic surgeon at Beacon Ortho in Washington state. “The sooner this can be diagnosed, the better.”

Dr. Hutchinson says while a mild muscle strain may cause some clicking or popping, a loud “snap” followed by pain, swelling and weakness likely signals a major tear that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment.

So if you suddenly feel or hear your shoulder pop mid-game, call it a day. Follow up with a doctor, who can examine your shoulder and order imaging tests like an MRI if needed. Prompt treatment will give you the best chance of healing fully after a torn rotator cuff or labrum.

2. You Experience Sudden, Sharp Pain in Your Shoulder

Intense pain in your shoulder while playing pickleball is a warning sign you may have seriously injured it. Especially if the pain comes on suddenly, it could signal something like a strained or torn muscle, a shoulder dislocation, or shoulder separation (when the collarbone partially or fully detaches from the shoulder blade).

According to Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, an orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital specializing in shoulders, “Sudden onset of sharp pain should be carefully evaluated to rule out significant injuries to the labrum, rotator cuff, capsule or ligaments around the shoulder.”

If you feel a lightning bolt of pain shoot through your shoulder when hitting a shot, stop playing immediately. Severe pain like this means continuing to play will likely worsen the injury. Follow up with a doctor promptly to diagnose the cause of the intense pain and decide on proper treatment. Depending on the injury, you may need anything from rest and physical therapy to cortisone injections or even surgery.

3. You Have Difficulty Lifting Your Arm Overhead or Behind Your Back

Restricted shoulder mobility after an injury is a red flag something serious is wrong. If you suddenly struggle to lift your arm overhead or behind your back, it’s crucial to get your shoulder checked out by a doctor.

“Inability to lift the arm over the head or behind the back may indicate a possible rotator cuff tear or shoulder dislocation,” says Dr. Jeffrey File, an orthopedic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente.

A tear in the rotator cuff tendons or a damaged labrum cartilage often severely limits shoulder mobility. Shoulder instability after a dislocation also hampers your ability to move your arm certain ways without pain or weakness. Don’t try to play through these mobility issues—it will only aggravate the injury. See a doctor to identify and treat the underlying cause.

4. You Feel Numbness or Tingling Down Your Arm

Experiencing numbness, tingling or burning sensations down your arm may signal nerve damage related to a shoulder injury. This alarming symptom could be caused by a tear compressing a nerve or a herniated disc in the neck or upper spine.

As Dr. Fass explains, “Numbness and tingling can be referred pain from a nerve in the neck that can occur in addition to shoulder pathology like rotator cuff tears. The sooner this is evaluated, the better.”

So if you suddenly feel your arm going numb or you have unusual tingling in your hand while playing, get off the court immediately. Promptly consult an orthopedist to diagnose the cause and avoid permanent nerve damage. These alarming sensations mean you need diagnostic testing like an MRI along with possible nerve repair surgery.

5. You Have No Strength on Certain Motions

Sudden weakness or complete loss of strength when moving your shoulder a certain way demands prompt medical care. This symptom often occurs with rotator cuff tears, the most common shoulder injury in pickleball.

According to Jonathan E. Lissy, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “Any loss of strength, especially lifting the arm up from the side, brings concern for a potential rotator cuff tear.”

Diminished strength makes it very difficult to play pickleball effectively and likely means you have a serious injury. Avoid any activities that highlight the weakness, which will only worsen damage. Instead, see a doctor immediately so they can order imaging tests and figure out what’s causing the weakness, such as a torn tendon. Addressing strength loss quickly improves recovery outlook.

6. Your Pain Worsens Over Time or Doesn’t Improve With Rest

Shoulder pain related to pickleball overuse will typically improve within a few days if you give your shoulder adequate rest. So if your shoulder pain persists despite taking time off from playing or gets progressively worse, this points to a major injury requiring medical attention.

“If pain is worsening over two weeks despite rest, this likely means there is something more serious going on like a tear,” advises Dr. Hutchinson.

Worsening pain that doesn’t respond to rest or over-the-counter medications signals you need a doctor to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. For example, severe or worsening shoulder pain may mean you have a large rotator cuff tear requiring surgery to repair. Make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist if your shoulder symptoms don’t start showing improvement within two weeks of rest.

When to See a Doctor for a Pickleball Shoulder Injury

Seeing a doctor right after getting injured on the pickleball court allows for optimal recovery. Here are some general rules about when to seek medical care:

  • Immediately if you have severe shoulder pain, hear a “pop,” have restricted mobility, or lose strength. These red flags indicate a likely serious injury.
  • Within 2 days if you have persistent mild-moderate pain after injuring your shoulder. Earlier treatment leads to faster healing.
  • Within a week if you have lingering shoulder pain or stiffness that hasn’t improved with rest. You need a diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • Within 2 weeks if shoulder pain worsens or doesn’t get better with rest. A chronic injury likely needs medical attention.
  • Right away if numbness, tingling or weakness develops later after an old shoulder injury. This signals possible nerve damage.

Orthopedists, sports medicine doctors and physical therapists all specialize in diagnosing and treating shoulder injuries in athletes like pickleball players. Describe in detail how you got injured plus all your symptoms. Come prepared with a list of questions and concerns to make the most of your appointment.

What Type of Doctor Treats Pickleball Shoulder Injuries?

Several types of doctors are well-equipped to diagnose and treat pickleball shoulder problems:

  • Orthopedic surgeons: These doctors specialize in musculoskeletal injuries. They can order imaging tests like MRIs and perform procedures like cortisone injections or rotator cuff surgery.
  • Sports medicine physicians: They focus on treating athletic injuries and can provide comprehensive nonsurgical shoulder care.
  • Physical therapists: PTs offer conservative shoulder treatment like therapeutic exercises, manual therapy, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and taping.
  • Physiatrists: These doctors specialize in nonsurgical musculoskeletal medicine and interventional pain management.
  • Chiropractors: Chiros provide nonsurgical care for shoulder injuries, especially joint and soft tissue manipulation.

For severe shoulder injuries like large rotator cuff tears or shoulder dislocations, visiting an orthopedic surgeon is typically best. They can determine if you need surgery to repair damage and restore function. Physical therapists often work closely with doctors to guide rehabilitation before and after shoulder surgery.

Diagnosis of Pickleball Shoulder Injuries

To diagnose the cause of shoulder pain, doctors use:

  • Medical history: Discussion of your health, symptoms, and how the injury occurred.
  • Physical exam: Tests for pain, strength, range of motion and instability.
  • Imaging tests: X-rays, MRIs and ultrasound to look at bones, tissues and internal damage.
  • Special tests: Checks for specific injuries like rotator cuff tears.

Proper diagnosis is crucial, as different shoulder injuries require customized treatment plans. For example, a cortisone shot can relieve shoulder impingement pain but worsen a tear. Accurate diagnosis ensures you follow optimal therapy for your type of injury.

Common Pickleball Shoulder Injuries and Treatments

Here are some of the most frequent pickleball shoulder problems and how doctors treat them:

Rotator Cuff Tears

  • Symptoms: Pain, weakness lifting the arm, popping sensation
  • Treatment: Rest, physical therapy, cortisone shot, PRP, surgery

Shoulder Impingement

  • Symptoms: Pain raising arm overhead or reaching back
  • Treatment: Rest, PT, steroid injection, subacromial decompression

Labrum Tears

  • Symptoms: Catching, locking, instability, popping sound
  • Treatment: PT, surgery (Bankart repair, SLAP repair)

Bicep Tendonitis

  • Symptoms: Front shoulder pain, tenderness
  • Treatment: Rest, ice, NSAIDs, PT, steroid injection

Shoulder Instability

  • Symptoms: Frequent dislocations, looseness
  • Treatment: PT to strengthen shoulder muscles, surgery

AC Joint Arthritis

  • Symptoms: Pain at top of shoulder that worsens with activity
  • Treatment: Rest, ice, PT, steroid injection, surgery

Prompt and proper treatment tailored to your specific injury promotes the fastest recovery and return to pain-free pickleball. Don’t delay seeing a doctor if you have warning signs of shoulder damage.

How Are Pickleball Shoulder Injuries Typically Treated?

Doctors generally take a stepped approach in treating injured pickleball shoulders:

1. Rest: Avoiding activities that aggravate shoulder pain allows injuries to heal.

2. Medications: Anti-inflammatories and pain relievers help manage discomfort.

3. Physical Therapy: PT focuses on shoulder strengthening, mobility and stabilization.

4. Bracing: Shoulder braces can support and stabilize joint injuries.

5. Injections: Steroid shots reduce inflammation; PRP improves tissue healing.

6. Surgery: If conservative methods fail, surgery repairs damaged structures.

Your doctor will select the appropriate treatments based on your specific injury. Combining therapies like PT and steroid injections often optimizes outcomes. Proper shoulder injury rehabilitation aims to restore strength, mobility and function.

Can Pickleball Shoulder Injuries Be Prevented?

Many simple strategies can help pickleball players avoid shoulder injuries:

  • Warm up your shoulders thoroughly before play with stretches and light dynamic movements.
  • Strengthen your rotator cuff and scapular muscles with weight training.
  • Use proper technique and body mechanics on strokes like serves.
  • Take frequent breaks during long sessions to give your shoulder muscles a rest.
  • Play within your fitness level and don’t overdo new moves.
  • Use lightweight paddles to reduce strain on the shoulder.
  • Avoid playing when your shoulder is in pain.
  • Treat minor shoulder pain promptly with rest, ice and over-the-counter medications.
  • Work closely with a coach to correct any stroke flaws putting excess stress on your shoulder joint.
  • Listen to your body and stop playing if your shoulder starts hurting.

Proper preparation, smart training, and technique adjustments go a long way towards pickleball shoulder injury prevention. However, abrupt trauma like colliding with a partner can cause unavoidable damage. Use pain and other warning signs as your guide.


Pickleball may look like casual backyard fun, but it’s a serious sport when it comes to shoulder demands. The explosive rotator cuff contractions required for paddle strokes up the risk for overuse injuries and tears. Watch for these 6 red flags that indicate a need for prompt medical treatment:

  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Popping sensations
  • Limited range of motion
  • Arm numbness or tingling
  • Loss of strength
  • Persistent or worsening pain

Orthopedic doctors can diagnose shoulder injuries, provide tailored treatment, and guide rehab. Proper rest and care following warning signs helps pickleball players heal fully and avoid chronic shoulder problems. Pay attention to your body, take preventive steps, and see a doctor at the earliest sign of injury. This protects your shoulder so you can enjoy pickleball safely for years to come.

About The Author

4 thoughts on “6 Red Flags Your Pickleball Shoulder Injury Needs Medical Attention STAT, According To Doctors”

  1. I’ve been playing pickleball for a while, and this article has opened my eyes to the potential risks associated with the sport. Are there any specific warm-up exercises or stretches you’d recommend to help prevent shoulder injuries before a game?

    1. To prevent shoulder injuries in pickleball, try these warm-up exercises: arm circles, shoulder stretches, and gentle rotator cuff exercises. Stretch and warm up your shoulder muscles before playing, it’ll help a lot!

  2. It’s great to see the pickleball community coming together to discuss important topics like injury prevention. Let’s all stay safe and enjoy the game we love for years to come!

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