Pickleball does not cause low back pain. In fact, many physical therapists are starting to use pickleball as part of a holistic treatment plan for low back pain.
In this article, I will discuss low back pain and the role pickleball may play in a low back pain recovery program.
In a 2020 research article it was stated that globally, low back pain is the leading global cause of what is referred to as years lived with disability.
Low back pain is far more complex than a 1,000+ word blog post, but for the purpose of this article, I wanted to discuss a couple of common conditions associated with low back pain.
According to Mayo Clinic, spinal stenosis is a condition in which the canals on either side of your spine begin to narrow due to degenerative changes. This narrowing leads to lumbar nerve root impingement which may be associated with back and leg pain, lower extremity weakness, and decreased balance.
The intervertebral discs are fibrocartilage between the bones of the spine that provide cushion and movement throughout the spine. These discs may become damaged in the form of degenerative changes, herniations, bulges, and normal wear and tear. As a result, individuals may experience pain associated with these changes, but it is important to remember that these changes may also be associated with normal aging and do not always result in pain.
Non-Mechanical Back Pain
Pain is a complex human experience. Sometimes, a person will experience pain in the absence of tissue damage.
Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones (see also ‘Can Pickleball Help With Osteoporosis?‘) may become sensitized due to hormonal or environmental factors. Cognitive behavioral treatment is a component of a holistic treatment plan for low back pain that investigates non-mechanical causes of back pain and develops treatment strategies for these variables.
Is Pickleball Bad for Your Back: What Does the Research Say?
A PubMed search for “Pickleball and Back Pain” provided no results as of August 22, 2022.
A 2020 article investigated 300 pickleball-related injuries that resulted in an emergency department admission.
The most common injuries were
- strain or sprain (28.7%)
- fracture (27.7%).
The affected body part was the lower extremity in 32.0% of the cases and the upper extremity in 25.4%.
No specific information about back pain or injuries to the spine was specifically cited.
Is Pickleball Bad for Your Back: Advice from a Licensed Physical Therapist
I have been a licensed physical therapist since 2006 and a strength and condition coach since 2001. Over that time I have read countless peer-reviewed research articles and worked with thousands of adult athletes.
The honest answer is there is no inherently “bad” activity for any part of your body.
We used to believe jogging was bad for your knees until clinic research showed us that people who never jogged also developed osteoarthritis in their knees.
We used to believe lifting heavy boxes were bad for your back until we found offer workers who didn’t lift heavy loads also have back pain and pathology.
Playing pickleball is not bad for your back. In fact, many of the movements associated with pickleball is quite healthy for your back and often part of most physical therapy rehabilitation programs.
Pickleball Does Not Cause Back Pain
While it may be true that some pickleball players will experience an increase in back pain the day after a pickleball match, it isn’t the act of playing pickleball that is causing the back pain.
If you find that your back feels normal when you don’t play but hurts the day after you do play, it may be the fact that you need to improve your fitness or mobility between matches.
Pickleball is a physically demanding game. Often, players spend so much time focusing on improving gameplay that they neglect the mobility and strength work that needs to happen.
As your technical skill improves so too must your mobility and strength. Developing a prescribed mobility and strength program will increase your capacity to play and as a result you will no longer experience pain the day after your match.
Pickleball Recovery Program
Recovery between matches is another important factor. When any athlete is overtraining, the body doesn’t have enough time between bouts of activity to fully recover.
When a strength athlete lifts weights, the intention is to break down the muscle fiber in order to allow that fiber to repair and grow stronger. Without recovery, the athlete never improves.
I wrote this article on the 7 Best Pickleball Recovery Tips After a Hard Game. It should help you recover quicker with less back pain. Then as your strength and mobility improve you will increase your ability to play harder and longer with no back pain.