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January 23, 2023

Pickleball and Sports Medicine

By Noe Sariban, PT, DPT, Cert. DN, TPI MII, CPTP

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Pickleball has been growing steadily in the past 10 years, but the last few years have been exponential. With this comes greater influx of sponsors, and more money is entering the sport. Top pros are now able to make a living on tournament earnings, endorsements, and exclusivity contracts. As pickleball continues to grow, its professional tours are becoming more established, and we have seen bigger sponsorship agreements and celebrities starting to invest in the sport.


As with any other professional sport, the health and well-being of the athletes is paramount to performing at their best during competition, and taking care of their bodies will minimize their risk for injury while prolonging their careers as much as possible. This is evidenced by athletes such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, LeBron James, and Lionel Messi—to name a few of the recent greats to perform at a high level and extend their careers!


Pickleball should be no exception. Currently, the pickleball tournament schedule is very intense for most touring pros: 15-20 tournaments a year, with each player playing at least two events (sometimes three). Add on two days of traveling on either end of the tournament, and you are looking at 75-100 days on the road just to compete. In addition, players are dedicating more time to practicing and honing their craft, and are more athletic than even a few years ago. The training required to be in shape to compete at the highest level has become more intense (just look at the conditioning of Callie Smith, Ben Johns, or Tyson McGuffin).


While most pro players still do not earn enough to make a living from tournaments and sponsors alone (most still rely on teaching as a source of income), a few players at the top of the pack are doing very well with endorsement deals, appearance fees, and tournament earnings. These players are now able to invest in themselves and have sought help from medical and fitness professionals to enhance their performance.


I am fortunate to be working with Ben Johns, the number-one player in the world, and be present at tournaments as his physical therapist. Sports physical therapists are experts in injury prevention and management, as well as recovery and performance enhancement specialists. Ben usually plays all three events (singles, mixed doubles, and men’s doubles), and ends up playing on Championship Sunday frequently (often competing for triple crowns). This means a lot of matches and a lot of wear and tear on his body during each tournament. My job is to provide Ben with support before, during, and after each match or competition day to ensure that he is in top physical condition every time he steps on the court. Here is an overview of what a sports physical therapist can provide for an athlete:

  • The morning of each competition day With Ben, we begin the day with an hour session to work on joint mobility and muscle flexibility, addressing any restrictions in muscle tissues that could affect his performance using various techniques such as spinal manipulations, joint mobilizations, trigger point and electrical dry needling, cupping, soft tissue mobilizations, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.

  • Prior to every matchWe perform a thorough dynamic warm-up, focusing on all muscle groups so that when Ben steps onto the court, we have minimized the risk of injury during the match. In addition, we utilize taping techniques as necessary for the match ahead.

  • During the matchI am available if any physical complication occurs. If a medical time-out is required, providing “on-court” care to mitigate any injury gives Ben a chance to finish the match if the injury permits him to continue.

  • Post-matchWe perform a cool-down routine. This ensures better recovery for the next match and enables muscles to bounce back faster and reduce lactic acid and metabolic waste buildup in the tissues. Pickleball tournaments are often exhausting for players since they play multiple matches in a day. A proper cool-down routine is often overlooked and may be key in minimizing cramping and decreased athletic performance. In addition, we can address any muscle tightness or minor injury in between matches to get ready for the next opponents.

  • After each day of competitionWe end the day with another hour session to maximize recovery for the following day, addressing any muscle tightness and joint restrictions, aches and pains, and ensuring that tissues are properly stretched and released prior to the next day of competition. Once again, we utilize a variety of manual therapy techniques to achieve the desired results, and make sure the body is in optimal condition for the following day.


At the highest level of every sport, every little detail matters, and addressing any physical limitation can be the key to performing at your best. Having a medical team by your side as a professional athlete is a luxury each pickleball player would love to have. As pickleball continues to grow and evolve, it is apparent that medical professionals will become more involved to maximize the athletes’ performances.


If you’d like to learn more about this, you can contact “The Pickleball Doctor” at The Pickleball Doctor is the owner of Move It Physical Therapy in Chapel Hill, NC. Free 10-minute consults are available to see if it’s a good fit, and virtual sessions are available if you are not in the area. Movement Screens can be performed virtually, and Noe can provide you with the appropriate guidance to make sure you are ready to play this sport we all love!  

Noe Sariban is a doctor of physical therapy and owner of Move It Physical Therapy in Chapel Hill, NC. He is a certified pickleball teaching professional through the IPTPA, and the tournament physical therapist for the world’s #1 men’s player, Ben Johns. Visit for more information on injury prevention and rehabilitation tips, and like his Facebook page,, for updates and new information.

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