Physical Therapy Corner
Injury Prevention for Paddle Tennis
Demands, common injuries, and how you can stay safe
Gina Pongetti, MPT, MA, CSCS, ART-cert
Sports Biomechanics Specialist
Sports Medicine Program Director/Owner
The game of paddle tennis is growing in popularity throughout the Midwest, and especially in the western suburbs of Illinois. For some, it is a game that transitions them away from the demands of singles or doubles tennis. For others, it is a way of combining the thrill and benefit for a workout with some social time with friends. And, for a few, it is a way to be outside and active using the skills of both tennis and racquetball. Teams and leagues are everywhere- from KLM in Hinsdale, to country clubs. No longer do you have to travel to the north shore to find volumes of competitive groups at your level.
The sport is governed by the United States Paddle Tennis Association (USPTA). Mostly an adult sport, children are now being encouraged to play so that they can do so as they get older, and to join like-minded kid groups, which were not present years ago. As it has increased in popularity, the injuries have as well. Here is why:
- Recreational. Many paddle tennis players practice once a week, and play games within a league, or even pick up games. Some do not work out outside of playing, and therefore do not view themselves as “athletes,” rather that is is just a good workout. As with any sport, cross training, balance, strength, etc. are all components not only of more efficient play, but also for injury prevention purposes.
- Agility demands. Paddle tennis demands small and sometimes intricate lateral motions. You stay on your side of the court, unless you are covering. Unlike racquetball, where you often crossover, or doubles tennis where the court is much larger, paddle is a faster game demanding lower reaction time and quick motion. With this comes the demand of muscle recruitment from 0-60 in tenths of a second. If the muscles are not trained (i.e. the calves to take a side step or the hamstrings to lunge forward) tears and strains often happen.
- Maturity. Often paddle tennis players are older than other demanding sports, such as basketball, marathoning, and volleyball. With this comes a decrease in elasticity of the muscles, possible decrease in muscle mass, and at times a slower response time. It is a fantastic sport, in that the plyometric/jumping demands are low if bone density is an issue.
- Wrist. Paddle tennis is a combination of force shots as well as finesse. There are less opportunities for shoulder injuries than there are in tennis, due to smaller court and less of a need to smash the ball. However, because of the odd positions that one gets in during fast play, the wrist can, at times, be used to move the paddle instead of spreading the force among the elbow and the shoulder.
- From the knee down. Many conditions present themselves for injuries to the lower leg. Calf strains are popular due to the weather and Achilles issues from overuse as well as a lack of flexibility and pliability of the calf muscles (which lead in to the Achilles tendon!). Ankle sprains are less common than in tennis because of the grippy surfaces paddle is played on, but still prevalent, due to constant change of directions on the court. Plantar fasciitis (irritation of the tissues on the arch or bottom of the foot) happens often, most likely as a combination of the sport as well as shoe choices in regular life.
- The Bees Knees. The knee, of course, is simply in the middle of the ankle and the hip. It is the attachment place of three very important muscle groups- the hamstring (back of the thigh), the quads (front of the thigh) and the adductors (inside of the thigh). Most paddle sport injuries to the knee are meniscal in nature, patellar tendon irritation (from the constant start and stop) and distal IT Band issues (where it inserts in the outside of the knee). There are some acute injuries that happen because of how you are positioned and awkward forces. However, chronic knee issues are usually preventable by hip strengthening, cross training, rolling and more.
- Tweaking the spine. The spine is less injured than regular tennis due to the lack of power shots, like the double -handed backhand stroke. The sport of paddle is a social one, and therefore does not lead to many players warming up their muscles prior to playing (there aren’t many places for Yoga mats in most paddle huts!) . Because of this, the small muscles of the spine are tighter and holding tension to support the spine and the arms (with swinging). as Ideally, these small muscles have some tension, but they allow each individual level to rotate, side bend, and extend/flex. Most spine injuries seen are paraspinal muscle strains, disc injuries or stress, and ligament injury due to awkward/quick motion and general tight muscles.
So, how can we prevent these injuries from happening? There is a great energy toward treating the social sport like more of a sport- not just to make elite athletes out of mid 40’s new-to-the-sport members, but more so to encourage health and longevity, week after week, throughout the season and the year. In order to do this, we have to take on the mindset that a combination of warm up/cool down, injury prevention, cross training and endurance are all parts of the process. What can we do?
- Encourage your club to allow space (maybe in the main clubhouse) for programs such as Yoga, Pilates, endurance, agility, balance, core training, and more- specific to paddle tennis, run by a Physical Therapist (PT), personal trainer, athletic trainer, etc.
- Encourage your team to arrive early- to participate in warm up activities. These include physically warming up the body, stretching, joint motion, aerobic exercises, and functional movement.
- Inspire people to stay after (and not just for a beverage!). The best time to do stretching and flexibility is after a workout- to take advantage of muscles being pliable, joints being free, and to help with recovery the next day.
- Change your mindset: you are an athlete! If you commit to playing 2x week, then you need to commit to the sport 4x week. Maybe 1 team practice/drills day, one game/match day, one aerobic or strength day, and one agility/paddle specific drill day. It sure does seem like a lot of time, but you will see the results, and the difference in your confidence, your recovery and your body. Not to mention… you will smash you opponents!
- Self-care. You can make a better and healthier body by participating in stretching (static and dynamic), rolling (Trigger Point rollers, balls, foam rollers, etc.), strength training (focus on core and hips), balance activities, agility and footwork/speed exercises, and shoulder/upper body health for better mechanics. These are all things that you can do on your own, for minutes each week, that make a huge difference in your play! Watch our website for a complete Paddle Health Program to come!
Website for rules and further information: