Pickleball and Parkinson’s

POSTED: 6/12/2017 | June 12, 2017

In a few weeks there will be a tournament in Pittsburgh, PA benefiting the Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania. As you know there are more and more tournaments for players to choose from, but when a wonderful charity is benefiting, pickleball players should try to make it happen. If pickleball can help raise money, and more importantly manage symptoms then it’s a win-win.

Pickleball and Parkinson’s disease (PD). Do you know someone that loves pickleball and has Parkinson’s? I do, and so do my parents, Bob and Bev Youngren who teach pickleball at Happy Trails in Surprise, AZ during the winter. Over the years my dad has shared with me his experiences in keeping students (a few with PD) engaged and entertained while he teaches pickleball.

Let’s start with “WHY” pickleball works so well with Parkinson’s, and then I will share with you HOW TEACHING a student with Parkinson’s can be a gratifying endeavor.

But first, enjoy the following video of passionate pickleball player Andy Leighton who summarizes what pickleball does for him:

A few weeks ago Caitlin, a director at the Parkinson Foundation in Western Pennsylvania, contacted me about posting a story on my blog. She shared the following facts with me:

Playing pickleball is an outstanding therapy for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and their loved ones. Pickleball combines hand and eye coordination with simple movement that has helped thousands with Parkinson’s manage their symptoms and continue to live a normal life.

Benefits of pickleball for Parkinson’s disease:

Evidence continues to mount that regular exercise has a profound effect on managing Parkinson’s symptoms, both motor and non-motor. In the case of pickleball:

Symptom management
• Changes in length and speed of stride can improve shuffling gait
• Directional changes can improve balance and compensatory “righting strategies”
• Groundstrokes (trunk rotation) can improve axial rigidity
• Overhead strokes can improve extensor muscle flexibility
• The aerobic/cardiovascular aspect of pickleball can improve fitness, health and cognitive function

Other areas
• Weight bearing/impact of play can reduce risk of osteoporosis
• Exercise can improve gastrointestinal motility and reduce risk of constipation
• Reduced feeling of fatigue
• Elevated mood and perceived quality of life
• Improved sleep quality and quantity

Disease modification
Research also supports the mounting evidence that regular vigorous exercise can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and help facilitate the establishment of compensatory neural pathways (neuroplasticity).

HOW to teach a pickleball student with Parkinson’s – as shared by Bob Youngren (my dad and 5.0 player):

“As an instructor, you have to really study the person—see what is happening. When the student has a hand tremor, it’s always amazing to me that when they swing at the ball, the hand really flattens out. It doesn’t tremor. When I am teaching, I like to go up next to them…let’s say I’m showing them a groundstroke…. I actually gently hold on to their wrist or grab their hand on the paddle, and that usually stops the tremor. This way it’s much easier for me to teach, for example, the low to high swing rotation, shifting their weight, hips, shoulder motion….it comes to them much easier than if you just tell them how and let them do it. Touching their hands or wrists, in most cases, will stop the tremor.  I don’t feel it fighting against me at all.”

I hope this post sheds some light on Parkinson’s for you and how it might benefit your pickleball community. If you’re in the Pittsburgh area or can make it there, please join in the fun. GOOD LUCK to Andy and all the players!

And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog – top right of the page…

9 comments on “Pickleball and Parkinson’s”

  1. Hi there,
    I’ve never posted anything before but I wanted to share this year with someone. It seems surreal that Parkinson’s disease (PD) could take my active lifestyle in just a few months. I’ll be as brief as possible, but let me preface with I believe my mind is still clear and focused.

    I was diagnosed with PD in 2014 and turned 64 in 2023. At 63 years young, in January, I was playing Pickleball Tuesdays and Thursdays at least 8 hours each day. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I was in the gym and Saturday was family day. Then of course Sunday is church and chill day. At this time using medication and exercise my ON time was 24 hours a day and 100% self sufficient. I did almost all of the driving to Colorado, Missouri, Mississippi, Texas, wherever we decided to go. A year early I had disjointed a toe and went to the podiatrist who sent me to get orthotic insoles. All was well for about a year until the balls and heals of my feet started to hurt, so I did what many athletes do, played through the pain. What I didn’t know was that orthotics wore out! By the time I got in to see the podiatrist I was playing Pickleball about two hours Tuesdays and Thursdays and could barely walk. They ordered me some new orthotics which didn’t work and now its December. I can’t walk, I have 2 ON hours out of every 5, I can’t drive, and my feet still have pain. The last time I played Pickleball I gave up after two games and we won both of them.

    All that I was asking for was some help with pain in my feet. Now I am scheduled for brain surgery. The first question I asked when everyone started talking about DBS surgery was, “Is there Pickleball after DBS”? And the only answer I get is “maybe”. I truly believe that Pickleball is better than western medicine for PD. I’m not going to have a chance to prove that, but if you’re playing now, don’t stop. And if you’re not, try it. You may have the best healing experience.

    1. Fran, thank you so much for sharing, very helpful for others with PD and all of us just getting through our days. I wish you all the best along your journey, your pickleball pals are rooting for YOU!! Big hugs

  2. Hi there! I’m looking for resources for my Dad. He currently plays pickleball but is no longer able to keep up in the competitive league in his neighborhood. I haven’t been able to find out if there are parkinson’s specific pickleball groups out there. There isn’t anything via his current network so any help/resources would be much appreciated!

  3. I am 65 years old, I was diagnosed of Parkinson’s disease at the age of 59. I had severe calf pain, muscle pain, slurred speech, frequent falls, loss of balance, difficulty getting up from sitting position. i was on Carbidopa and Pramipexole for two years, as the disease progressed my symptoms worsened, with my neurologist guidance i started on natural PARKINSON’S DISEASE TREATMENT from Rich Herbal garden (ww w. richherbalgardens. c o m). The treatment worked very effectively for my Parkinson’s, most of my severe symptoms simply vanished within the first 3 months on the treatment, i feel better now than I have felt in years and i can feel my strength again. My neurologist was very open when looking at alternative medicines and procedures, this alternative Parkinson’s disease treatment is indeed a breakthrough.

  4. Hi Jennifer! We look forward to having you attend our Pickleball Canada National Tournament in Kelowna, BC Canada on July 7-9th. Parkinson’s Research is our charity focus for this event and this is the 3rd year we will have supported this worthy cause. We have one club member in particular who has been playing pickleball in our club for quite a number of years while battling this disease. He’s an amazing athlete. He may not be able to move fast, but put that ball anywhere in his wing span and it comes back like a high skilled pickleball player. Last summer he had Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery. This has helped him regain some of his functions and he is back playing pickleball much to the delight of our club and it’s members. Let’s hope research finds a cure, but in the meantime, those with Parkinson’s on the pickleball courts are valued members and it is inspiring to see them play despite their limitations.

  5. At our local YMCA, several of the pickleball regulars are suffering from Parkinson’s. A few of these folks are among the stronger players. We give them no special consideration in shot selection (at least, not too obviously!), and they relish the competition and the camaraderie. And we cherish their friendship and courage. Over the years, one Parkinson’s victim, a retired physician, ultimately had to give up.the game because of the increased severity of his symptoms. This is a wonderful man, a lifelong, dedicated healer. It is time we kick this condition to the curb.

  6. Your dedication to promoting this wonderful game is really admirable. I no longer am able to play, but it certainly provided many hours of pleasure for me while I could and the many friends I made over the years as a player and tournament director have given me wonderful memories. Keep up the good work!

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