Who would have thought padel could be a bone breaker?
A significant number of people have suffered injuries while playing padel, but experts say it’s not because the game is more dangerous than other sports, but because of the average age of those taking to the game who didn’t play similar sports before.
Johannesburg orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Brad Gelbart says he has seen many padel injuries in the past 18 months.
“Padel has attracted a different age group of people, many over 30 year olds who probably weren’t playing sports that required them to change direction quickly,” says Gelbart. “Their bodies aren’t always used to it, so, yes, we’re going to have injuries and that cohort are getting a different type of injury to what they had before. A significant amount are coming through to me and the people I work with.”
Gelbart says padel has opened up a whole new social exercise to people who weren’t good at sports, didn’t want to exercise, or couldn’t find a physical activity suitable for them.
Padel isn’t more damaging than any other sport, he says. “If you look at the number of people playing padel versus the number of people doing other sports, it’s a fair number relative to the number of people playing.”
Gelbart says physios, sports physicians, and orthopaedic surgeons already know how many patients they’ll be seeing who suffer injuries while participating in traditional sports such as rugby, soccer, netball, cycling, and running. “But, certainly, when padel started, there was a rush of people who had injuries from playing it. It may be the sport or it may just be the rapid take-off of the sport, the fact that suddenly, people were playing padel. The number getting injured was quite high.”
Capetonian private equity investor Leor Atie, 51, had been playing padel for just over an hour at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town on 26 October last year when he played a normal shot and heard a loud bang which sounded like a gunshot. Everyone at the padel court heard it. “Oh, you hit yourself with the padel!” some people said.
“That would be a good case scenario,” he responded. “It’s definitely more serious than that.”
He had suffered a complete rupture of his Achilles tendon.
Although this was only his tenth padel game, he’s an avid runner who does about 2 000km a year of trail running, so was shocked at suffering such an injury.
“Out of the four people on the court, I would have been voted the least likely to get injured, but padel is a very different movement to running, and even though I’m a trail runner and have very strong ankles, I suppose I wasn’t totally used to the forward and backward movement of padel,” Atie says while still in a moon boot almost three months later.
Avid 43-year-old Johannesburg padel player David Vinokur, the chief executive of Global Capital, had played 72 padel games at various courts in Johannesburg when he woke up in the middle of the night and felt like someone had shot him in the elbow.
“As with many people, I was completely addicted to padel, and went through a period in which I was playing too much,” he says. “It resulted in what I thought was tennis elbow and it just wasn’t healing.”
He went for multiple treatments, saw physiotherapists and sports physicians, before seeing a surgeon. “It was diagnosed as radial tunnel syndrome,” he says. “I was just one of those unlucky people who had certain weaknesses within their radial tunnel and as a result of that, I might need an operation.
“I’m active, I’ve been playing sports, including tennis, my whole life, so it’s not that it was due to my body or me. I don’t blame it on padel. It could have been gym, it could have been on a lot of things. I was just overdoing it.”
Atie says his injury has put him off playing padel “because of the impact”.
“It’s been almost three months. I’m an active person, I’m always walking and swimming, and so on. So it’s just too much of a risk that it could happen again if I play padel. If I got the identical injury running, I wouldn’t stop doing it. I run four or five times a week, so I’m not going to give that up. Padel is more of a hobby for me, and the risk-reward ratio is out of balance. I’m not saying I would never set foot on the padel course again, but I’m not going to play regularly.”
He says his injury wasn’t caused by a stretching issue or an irresponsible shot. “The way to prevent it would have been, maybe, a huge amount of conditioning, going to a biokineticist, physio, and getting a whole lot of exercises to condition your body for the type of movement of padel. The truth is, the more you play padel, the more your body will become conditioned and the less likely you’ll be to have an injury. So, playing padel is probably the conditioning that you need.”
“The problem is the blood supply to the Achilles tendon. As you get older, that isn’t necessarily perfect, you get weak spots, and as a result, you can get this kind of injury,” Atie’s surgeon told him.
The padel players Gelbart has been treating are presenting with muscle strain, tears, tendon ruptures, and, very occasionally, knee ligament injuries or dislocated shoulders.
Players can prevent injury by warming up, exercising outside of the game, or starting a programme with a physio or biokineticist, Gelbart says. “Keep stretching, maintain suppleness, and play to your strengths,” he advises.
Nevertheless, Vinokur encourages everyone to play padel. “It’s an amazing sport,” he says. “I would recommend it to everyone. Although my injury has put me out for four months, I’ll be on the court again as soon as I can.”