The Hidden Cost of Pickleball Popularity: A $400 Million Healthcare Bill

Pickleball, the racket sport that has seen a significant surge in popularity, is not just a fun pastime but also a potential health hazard, particularly for seniors. According to a recent analysis by UBS Group AG, the sport could be contributing to a rise in healthcare costs, with injuries related to pickleball estimated to cost Americans nearly $400 million in 2023.

The sport’s growth has been impressive, with a projected 150% increase in players this year, reaching 22.3 million. Interestingly, seniors make up about a third of these players, who play the game at least eight times a year. The sport also attracts players with higher incomes, with almost half earning over $100,000 per year.

The cost estimation comes from a combination of studies and data analysis. A 2021 study titled “Non-fatal senior pickleball and tennis-related injuries treated in United States emergency departments, 2010-2019” by Harold Weiss, Jacob Dougherty, and Charles DiMaggio, and a 2020 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine titled “Pickleball-Related Injuries Treated in Emergency Departments” by Mathias B. Forrester, provided key insights. These studies revealed that pickleball players visit emergency departments at a rate of about 0.27%, with the majority of injuries occurring among those 60 years or older. The most common injuries are strains, sprains, and fractures, particularly in the wrist and lower leg.

UBS’s calculation also took into account the estimated number of emergency department visits, outpatient visits, outpatient surgeries, hospitalizations, and post-acute episodes related to pickleball injuries. The total estimated medical costs related to pickleball are $377 million, with $302 million (80%) attributable to the outpatient setting and $75 million (20%) attributable to the inpatient setting.

While physical activity is generally seen as beneficial for health, the rise in sports injuries, particularly among seniors, leads to an increase in orthopedic procedures. This trend highlights the need for caution and safety measures in sports, especially those attracting a significant number of senior players.

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