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The pickleball attraction

The pickleball attraction

A manageable court size and relatively lightweight equipment have made pickleball popular with the 50-and-older crowd. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

There are many reasons pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States.

Chief among them: This mashup of pingpong, badminton, Wiffle ball and tennis is well-suited for people doing their best to ensure their joints and muscles withstand the test of time.

Spectrum Health sports medicine experts share their Top 4 reasons the sport is popular, particularly among the 50-and-older crowd.

1. Manageable court size

A pickleball court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide. Compare that to a singles tennis court, which is 78 feet long and 27 feet wide, and you’ll realize you have significantly less ground to cover during a game of pickleball.

“Tennis, particularly singles tennis, becomes too much for people with bad knees or hips. It’s just too much running,” said Phillip Adler, PhD, a certified athletic trainer and manager of athletic training outreach for Spectrum Health Sports Medicine.

“Pickleball is still fast-paced and you still have to move quickly and side-to-side,” he said. “There’s just not as much ground to cover.”

2. Lightweight paddle

A pickleball paddle weighs about 7 ounces, making it 30% lighter than the average tennis racquet.

Unlike tennis, players serve and play most shots underhanded, which means it’s not so hard on your shoulders, particularly your rotator cuff, Dr. Adler said.

3. Moves your muscles

Biceps and triceps help when you’re serving and hitting the ball. Moving around the court activates your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves and other leg muscles.

But that’s not all.

Bending to hit a shot works your lower back. Leaning forward and twisting improves your core strength. Backpedaling and side-to-side movements work leg muscles. Gripping the paddle works your hand muscles. And there’s the cardiovascular benefits as your heart responds to all that movement.

“You could probably go through and highlight how just about every muscle could be used in a game of pickleball,” Dr. Adler said.

4. Lifts your spirits

The sport has been around since the 1960s—and may or may not be named after the dog of one of its inventors—but it’s growing in part because the rules aren’t complicated, equipment isn’t expensive and the game allows for lots of interaction among players.

“The court is small so it’s easy to have a conversation with your doubles partner or opponent,” Dr. Adler said. “The exercise will make you feel good, for sure, and the social interaction might provide an added boost.”

Just be cautious

If you have pain, don’t try to play through it. Talk to a medical expert.

“Physicians don’t want to keep older folks from participating in activities,” Spectrum Health sports medicine physician Matt Axtman, DO, said. “We just want to make sure that they recognize injuries early, so they can be evaluated and treated properly. If they don’t, an injury may progress or worsen and keep them out of the game even longer.”

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