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Pickleball injuries could cost Americans up to $500 million this year, analysis finds

Pickleball rises in popularity
Inside the rising popularity of pickleball 08:46

The growing popularity of pickleball in the U.S. is leading to a related surge, a new analysis has found: The number of Americans who are in pain.

The explosive growth of the racquet sport in recent years is contributing to higher injury rates and health care costs, particularly among seniors, according to analysts at UBS. They estimate in a report that injuries related to pickleball could cost Americans between $250 million and $500 million in medical costs this year, mostly related to wrist and leg sprains and fractures. 

The investment bank was prompted to examine the issue after UnitedHealth Group, whose stocks the Wall Street firm covers, said that health care utilization rates have jumped in recent months among Medicare users.

Pickleball, which has been around since the 1960s, has moved from a little-known pastime to a full-fledged cultural phenomenon in recent years, especially gaining traction during the pandemic when many people embraced outdoor activities. Over roughly the last three years the number of recreational players around the U.S. has soared 159%, from 3.5 million in 2019 to 8.9 million in 2022, according to data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. 

And the sport is poised for even faster growth. UBS analysts forecast that more than 22 million "Picklers," as players are known, will be thwacking balls back and forth this year. Seniors make up a third of the most avid players, according to the firm's estimate, which defines that as people who whip out their paddles at least eight times per year.

Pickleball appeals to seniors in particular because it's less strenuous, easier to access and learn how to play than other racquet sports like tennis and squash. 

Pickleball gains popularity across the country 08:16

UBS analyzed this rapid growth, while also examining common pickleball-related injuries, to come up with its projection of medical costs directly attributable to sport. Overall, UBS estimates that $377 million worth of medical costs in 2023 will stem from pickleball. Roughly 80% — or $302 million — of the total relates to outpatient treatment in settings such as emergency rooms and doctor's offices, the bank said.

"While we generally think of exercise as positively impacting health outcomes, the 'can-do' attitude of today's seniors can pose greater risk in other areas such as sports injuries, leading to a greater number of orthopedic procedures," UBS analysts said in the report. "The heightened injury risk is especially true when considering that seniors' activity levels were depressed for most of the pandemic." 

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