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Pickleball: The Impact that Court Movements Have on Your Knees



It's no secret that knees are a popular topic at the pickleball courts. Knee braces are so common out there, that if you go out on the courts and not a single person in your game is wearing a knee brace, you should probably consider going out and buying a lottery ticket.


While there are many different types of knee issues, and some people's problems have been present before they started playing pickleball, have you ever considered whether or not your placement and positioning may be contributing to the issue?


When you go out on the courts and watch people play, it's always an adventure. Often, you’ll find that people play with their knees a bit bent while positioning themselves to hit a return, and this is great! Not so great, is the tendency to utilize improper squatting and lunging mechanics, as well as some of the positions that people get themselves into when trying to make tough returns.


Squatting and lunging, though?


It's true. Because they aren’t usually particularly deep, many people wouldn’t really think of squatting as a common pickleball maneuver, but it should be. Same goes for lunges for certain types of returns, especially when a player is up at the kitchen line.


What I often see is people underutilizing their hip muscles as they take their pickleball stances. This causes the knees to move forward over the toes, as the player instead overuses their quadriceps (muscles in the front of the thigh). In other cases, players avoid using their knees as much as possible, instead making their low back do a lot of the work.


Why does it matter? Not only is your stance going to be a less strong and stable, but you’re going to be putting quite a bit more compression on your kneecaps and/or spine, which can aggravate pre-existing pains, or contribute to new ones developing.


Now, what about the ways that we move in order to get to the ball? The good news is that improving your play, and protecting your knees involve working on the same types of skills.


Of course, your whole goal is to work your way up to the kitchen line, so that you can defend properly and skillfully try to outmaneuver your opponent. If you’ve gotten accustomed to how the game works, this involves a ton of side to side footwork. While this footwork may involve doing a lot of knee bending, it shouldn’t typically involve a lot of high impact.


However, if your opponent has been around the pickleball block enough, their primary goal is going to be to get you out of position. People will legitimately train their ability to disrupt your footwork. If they’re successful, you may find yourself impulsively doing things such as twisting and pivoting, getting caught standing on one leg, overreaching, or running backwards.


For the sake of the game, throwing off a player’s footwork is a huge advantage for the opposing team. Every moment that you aren’t able to recover your normal positioning is a huge opportunity for them to win the rally.


From a knee standpoint, having your footwork thrown off means that you’re likely doing more movements that involve higher amounts of impact, as well as more rotational forces being placed upon the knee.


If you find that your footwork is occasionally thrown off during a game, but you’re able to recover your usual form quickly, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. As I said above, forcing errors in footwork is a part of the game, and it’s unlikely that a person will never be thrown off.


However, if your technique is regularly disrupted, and you have trouble settling back into a normal rhythm of play, this is something that you’ll really want to dedicate some serious time to in order to improve your game and minimize the likelihood of knee issues.


So, what to do?


Well, footwork and positioning all involve a ton of motor learning (motor learning is basically the way that our body forms new habits). Since a player is so focused on the opponents and the ball during the game, footwork is one of those things that really needs to become natural. Practice it until you no longer need to dedicate a lot of time to your footwork. And as you get better? Practice it more, because stronger opponents are going to be even better at throwing your positioning off.


It’s a good thing that everybody loves doing drills, right?


When you’re in the middle of a game, the reality is that there’s so much going on that you probably aren’t going to have a ton of success developing new movement habits and techniques. When you drill, you can break the game down into pieces, and really hone in your positioning and stances. They aren’t nearly as glamorous or exciting as a real game, but drills are so, so important and effective.


Now, it is also worth considering that issues with aches, pains, coordination, balance, or strength can also have an impact on your ability to consistently achieve good body mechanics and positioning during pickleball play. If you have issues with any of those things, or need help getting started on the right track, that’s where I can help!


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As the owner of Serendipity Physical Therapy and Wellness, I’m an avid pickleball addict in Naples, Florida, with a goal of keeping pickleball players moving at their best and injury free. I work with players for anything ranging from reducing knee pain, weakness, or tightness, to helping with injury prevention, proper conditioning, and good technique.

If you’re new, you can check out more of my advice and content here: https://www.serendipityptw.com/blog.

If there is anything I can help you with or you have questions, please give me a call at (239) 232-8155, or send me an email at Contact@SerendipityPTW.com. I would love to see how I can help get you moving at your best!

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