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It is often safe to play pickleball with shoulder pain as long as the pain improves after warm ups and does not get worse during game play.

In this article, I will discuss when it may be safe to play pickleball dispite your shoulder pain and when your signs and symptoms that will require you to stop playing.

When is it safe to play pickleball with shoulder pain?

If you have ever experienced muscle soreness after a strength training workout, you know how “normal soreness” feels. Your chest and front of the shoulder might be tender to the touch.

The main indication that it should be safe to play pickleball with shoulder pain is when the pain resolves after a structured warm up.

Is it muscle pain or joint pain?

  • Safe: Muscle pain is that typical tenderness in the muscle the day after a heavy workout.
  • Safe: Muscle pain resolves with a warm up and is usually completely eliminated after 10-minutes of steady activity.
  • Not Safe: Joint pain is associated with irritation of the cartilage that covers the ends of your bones or cartilage within a joint.
  • Not Safe: Joint pain may get worse with activity and my be accompanied by clicking or popping.

* Athletes should avoid activities that increase joint pain until they have been evaluated by a licensed healthcare professional.

When is it no longer safe to play pickleball with shoulder pain?

Regardless of your pain coming from the muscle, joint, ligaments, or bone, any time your pain increases with activity it is not safe to play pickleball.

It may be hard to stop during the middle of a game, but I can tell you from personal experience, stopping before you pass your body’s threshold will allow you to play again soon.

Pushing past your body’s early warning system (pain is an alarm to alert you of what might be going on) may result in catastrophic injury that could end a season or a career.

What are some of the most common causes of shoulder pain?

Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy: (Link)

  • Tendonitis is commonly associated with pain and active inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons.
  • Tendinosis is commonly associated with damage to the tendon, but not necessarily inflamed.
  • Tendinopathy is all encompassing. It includes both terms and basically covers anything related to a painful shoulder.

Ligament Sprain/Strain:

Ligaments connect bone to bone. They provide your shoulder with the passive stability required when your muscles are at rest. Both ligaments and tendons may become sensitized and painful.

Muscle Pain:

The most common muscles of the shoulder are the rotator cuff. These 4 muscles help to stabilize the bones of the shoulder while controlling the movements of the glenohumeral joint.

  • Supraspinatus
  • Infraspinatus
  • Subscapularis
  • Teres Minor

Other large muscles involved in shoulder movement and pickleball play include: Biceps Brachii, Triceps, Trapezius, Rhomboids, and Deltoid to name a few.

Any or all of these muscles may become sore and sensitive after a heavy pickleball match or lifting weights in the gym.

When should I seek expert medical advice?

Most muscle soreness should resolve in 24 to 72 hours. Tendon or ligament pain might take 10 to 14 days to resolve on its own.

If you have been dealing with a persistent problem that doesn’t respond to rest or some form of active recovery, it may be best to consult with a sports medicine physician or licensed physical therapist. 

How does physical therapy help shoulder pain?

Seeing a physical therapist for shoulder pain related to pickleball will start with an intial evaluation. 

During that evaluation your physical therapist will assess range of motion and strength along with other physical findings to determine what might be causing your symptoms.

When I am evaluating a new patient, I take a detailed case history to learn more about when the symptoms started, how long the symptoms have been present, what makes the shoulder pain better and what makes it worse.

I collect information about past surgies and other injuries as well as other possible contributing factors such as a history of neck pain or elbow dysfunction.