Pickleball-related injuries will cost Americans $377 million in health care this year, making up 5% to 10% of total unexpected medical costs in the country.
Pickleball, America’s fastest growing sport, is driving risks for operators
It’s anticipated to rack up nearly $400 million in health care costs
Oct 10, 2023Share
Pickleball exploded during the pandemic, becoming America’s fastest-growing sport, and prompting gyms and leisure facilities to invest in new courts and events catering to the trend.
The Sports and Fitness Industry Association revealed that the number of pickleball players more than doubled from 3.5 million in 2019 to nearly nine million in 2022. New research by analysts from UBS, obtained by Bloomberg, estimates that figure to jump to 22.3 million this year.
But pickleball’s popularity, especially among adults over 60, makes it a risky and injury-prone venture for sports organizations, at least one expert has warned.
Nate Walker (pictured), senior vice president of SMIC, an Amwins group company, spoke to Insurance Business about pickleball’s surprising take-off and what it means for insurance and risk management. SMIC is a managing general underwriter (MGU) that specializes in sports, recreation, and event risks.
“It’s the type of sport that doesn’t take too much to pick up,” said Walker. “It doesn’t require a ton of fitness or a lot of running. I think the explosion is mainly because a lot of seniors are getting into it. Many gym franchises are getting rid of their basketball courts and putting in pickleball courts.”
Pickleball-related injuries on the rise
According to UBS analysts, pickleball-related injuries will cost Americans $377 million in health care this year, making up 5% to 10% of total unexpected medical costs in the country.
While great for keeping older adults active, pickleball can cause long-term injury to wrists, knees, ankles, and shoulders. Walker pointed out that most pickleball injuries involve sprains, strains, and fractures to those body parts, and could lead to costly surgical procedures among seniors.
“You’re dealing with ligament damage, and if you think about surgery for an Achilles tear, for example, you’re looking at a long recovery and extensive physical therapy to recover from that alone,” said Walker.
“They can be serious injuries, even for professional athletes. For a recreational athlete, you could be talking about a year in recovery.”
A 2021 medical study showed that 86% of emergency room visits due to pickleball injuries were made by individuals over 60.
Preventing costly claims for sports organizations
An injury-prone sport could spell higher liability and medical claims for sports organizations. Walker emphasized the importance of having strong safety protocols and risk mitigation measures in force.
“If a large pickleball association is running a tournament, it needs to be a well-run event. You need to consider the type of players you’re attracting,” he said.
Event organizers and facility operators alike should ensure pickleball courts are maintained well, inspecting them regularly for spills, dust, dirt, or other things that could cause slips and falls.
Similarly, pickleball equipment should be checked for any issues. Poor footwear, broken rackets or cracked balls could easily lead to strains, sprains, or accidents.
Emergency first aid equipment and phone access should also be always on premises, with medical staff on hand for injuries.
Before game time, Walker stressed players should be properly warmed up and hydrated to prevent cramps, dizziness, and dehydration that could cause worse injuries.
“Standard event management is key,” he said. “Are there plans in place if an injury does happen?”
Finally, Walker weighed in on tournament management.
“Player brackets are always important, so that you don’t have a senior going up against a young person, or a more experienced player going up against a beginner, because that’s not going to be fun for anybody,” he said.
“I think it goes back to making sure that the court is well-maintained, and the event is well organized, so that everybody is safe.”