Pickleball Eye Injuries Are a Real Concern

America’s fastest-growing sport has a lot to offer in terms of exercise and social activity. But it isn’t all fun and games: Some players have experienced injuries ranging from a black eye — like the one actress Michelle Pfeiffer received — to a vision-threatening tear in the retina. There’s no need to set down your paddle, however. The sport can still be safely enjoyed with proper eye protection.

Whether you’re new to the sport or consider yourself a pickleball pro, here’s what you need to know to safeguard your eyes and vision. 

Watch out for the pickleball!

People of all ages enjoy pickleball, a sport that combines features of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Players hit a perforated plastic ball using hard paddles on a court approximately half the size of a tennis court.

The ball moves quickly. By some estimates, it can travel up to 40 miles per hour during a serve and takes less than half a second to travel from one paddle to another.

This is especially risky for older people, who may not have the speed or agility to avoid contact injury. Pickleball has become especially popular among people age 65 and older.

When people at different skill levels play against one another — as often occurs in pickleball — less-experienced players may be more prone to eye injury, says ophthalmologist and Academy member Raj Maturi, MD.

How pickleball eye injuries happen

“A lot of people stand very close to the net when they’re playing pickleball,” Dr. Maturi says. “A ball directed to the eye can come faster than you have time to reflexively react to, causing significant vision impairment.” 

The risk of eye injury is higher in doubles games — the most common way to play — because two players are always close to the net and have less time to duck and avoid a fast-flying ball, Dr. Maturi explains. In a recent report, physicians described two separate instances of people who experienced dislocations of the eye's natural crystalline lens after being hit in the eye with a pickleball.

Being hit in the eye with a paddle can also cause eye injury. Players more likely to sustain an eye injury with more severe consequences include those with myopia or those who have had previous eye surgery.

Several kinds of eye injuries from pickleball have been reported by ophthalmologists, including:

These injuries can impair vision, cause bleeding in the eye and even require laser treatment or surgery. Some experts believe pickleball injuries are under reported. “Given how quickly the sport's popularity is rising, I suspect injuries will become more and more common,” said Dr. Maturi.

Protect your eyes while playing pickleball

Unlike racquetball and squash, pickleball does not require players at any level to wear protective eyewear. But eye protection may reduce the risk of injury.  

“The ideal protection would be polycarbonate safety goggles, which have front and side coverage,” said Dr. Maturi.

Wrap-around goggles provide the maximum level of eye protection. But even sunglasses or regular glasses are better than nothing, Dr. Maturi advises. Glasses with prescription lenses or an anti-glare coating can also help improve player’s vision.

How to treat a pickleball eye injury

Players who get hit in the eye while playing the pickleball should see an ophthalmologist right away if they notice a change or loss in vision or if they have substantial pain, bleeding, or bruising. Always ask your doctor for advice if you’re unsure what to do after an eye injury.