Cornea, General, Oculofacial

Pickleball: What your eye doctor wants you to know.

Pickleball has gradually become America’s sweetheart, but the doctors at Minnesota Eye Consultants are seeing an increase in eye injuries as the sport gains popularity. Since a pickleball travels at approximately 40 mph, a close-range strike to the eye may result in a severe ocular injury. We spoke with two of our eye doctors about common eye injuries and safety measures to help protect you and your pickleball comrades from encountering a dangerous eye injury. Dr. David Hardten is a cornea, cataract, and refractive surgeon, and Dr. Jill Melicher is an oculoplastic and reconstructive surgeon. Read on to find out how to play this amazing sport safely.

What are the most common eye injuries associated with pickleball?

A direct hit by a pickleball to a certain area on the face could break the bones around the eye, potentially leading to double vision and other eye problems. Dr. Melicher has seen injuries ranging from cuts to the tissue around the eye and brow, to complete and permanent vision loss from a severe laceration to the eyeball itself. Other eye injuries include a cornea or sclera tear (the white outer tissue of the eye) and injury to the lens, iris, and retina.

What kind of surgeries are needed after pickleball injuries?

As you can imagine, many of the eye injuries we see may require surgery depending on the severity. Here are some of the injuries and procedures that have been performed at Minnesota Eye Consultants as a result of pickleball trauma:

  • using sutures to repair eyelid and brow lacerations
  • dislocation of the natural lens, often requiring a new lens and cataract extraction
  • damage to the pupil, resulting in the need to suture the pupil smaller
  • replacing a damaged iris with an artificial iris
  • retinal detachment, leading to retinal surgery
  • total loss of an eye, requiring surgical removal

What are the long-term effects of injuries sustained during sports like pickleball?

All the injuries and issues we’ve discussed could require a long-term need for eyecare. Another example would be an injury to the drainage system of the eye (trabecular meshwork); this may lead to glaucoma many years later.

Good News: Eye injuries can be prevented!

Woman Playing Pickleball

The good news is, when precautions are taken, eye injuries can be rarer than a pickleball player who doesn’t argue over line calls. Safety glasses are the name of the game – literally. Dr. Melicher advises players to wear polycarbonate safety glasses so they can have a great time while minimizing injury risk to the eye.

Safety glasses are very important in sports like pickleball, tennis, and racquetball. Any sport that involves a moving ball should have protective glasses. When an athlete is wearing safety glasses and protective eyewear, the trauma from a ball is translated to the bones around the eye rather than the eye itself, reducing the damage that can happen.

For all you enthusiasts, we’re not trying to rain on your pickleball parade, but we do want you to play it safe. Continue enjoying this amazing sport, but do it safely by wearing protective eyewear. The next time you pack your paddle for your pickleball game, grab your safety glasses too!

If you have a pickleball-related injury resulting in a change or decrease in your vision, please seek an evaluation with your eye care provider or call Minnesota Eye Consultants at (952) 888-5800.