4 Common Ping Pong Injuries (& How to Avoid Them)

It might be considered a little far-fetched to think about ping pong, or even the professional version of it known as table tennis, as dangerous sports. You might think that very few players ever really suffer from any serious injuries that might come as a result of playing the game of ping pong.

This is often pretty accurate, although there have been plenty of occasions where professional players have indeed suffered from injuries that have ended their careers. While ping pong is certainly not on the same level as other dangerous contact sports like rugby or boxing, or even as dangerous as a similar sport like badminton, there are still a few ailments that can plague ping pong players at the amateur as well as the professional level.

For example, many players often suffer from sprained ankles, knee injuries, and even “tennis elbow” situations. We’ll look at a few of these common types of table tennis injuries and try to determine just how common they are.


Common Ping Pong Injury 1: Ankle Sprains 

ankle pain

Choosing the right shoes for your foot type can reduce the risk of ankle sprains.

Unlike other ping pong injuries, sprained ankles can be classified as acute injuries. Because of this, you should always try to reduce the amount of energy you use when making quick or unpredictable movements. Instead, try to get into a ready position as soon as you deliver a shot. Footwork is one of the most important basic skills of table tennis.

It may seem like fun to beat your opponents without moving around too much, but when you face better players, you will stand more chance of spraining your ankle if you do not move around very much because you will be forced to move around much more than you are used to. 

Also, when an ankle injury does occur, you should always look for treatment from a physiotherapist instead of just trying to take care of the sprain on your own. Most ping pong players who have been active in the sport for a while will eventually have to contend with ankle sprain injuries that result from the intensive level of their game. 

Try to realize right from the start that table tennis is a weight-bearing game that can have serious effects on your lower body. An ankle injury is something you might pick up when you make a lot of sharp turns or if you put too much effort into your strokes when you are not completely balanced behind your end of the table. Do whatever you can to avoid spraining your ankle in the first place because they become much more likely to sprain again after the first time.

Common Ping Pong Injury 2: Knee Injuries 

knee injury

To reduce the risk of getting a knee injury, your footwork is again a really important thing to consider. Always work on quickly getting back into the right position behind the table to receive the return after making your shot. If you do suffer from a knee injury, it is a good idea to have your physiotherapist examine your knee.

Knee injuries can be quite similar to ankle sprains because they result from the quick, unpredictable movements that you make when delivering a shot or saving a point by trying to do a little more than you actually can. Many golfers also experience these types of pains in their knee joints, so if you play golf and table tennis, the pain might be coming from either sport or even from both of them.

Knee injuries can also occur quite often during fairly light training sessions. Wearing a protective covering over your knees, or even knee straps or the knee pads that you might see on volleyball players, can sometimes really help you avoid the types of situations that might lead to serious knee injuries.

Common Ping Pong Injury 3: Tennis Elbow 

tennis elbow

In a similar way to the two injuries above, an elbow strain or tennis elbow can be the result of a poor playing technique. For instance, if you overextend your elbow too much when attempting a backhand shot, you might be likely to injure it. At times, the injury can even be made worse when you hit poor shots. This is something that happens not only in table tennis but in all racket sports.

An injury to your elbow can also be a serious one and it might take a very long time to heal properly. This is one of the reasons that you should never ignore any of the pains that you might feel as a result of playing table tennis. It is a sport just like any other in that it can be punishing on your body if you do not take enough precautions.

For all of these reasons, it becomes even more important to learn the proper basic skills right from the beginning. Always consult a doctor or physiotherapist at the first sign of trouble. Elbow injuries can especially become far more serious if you let them get worse over a long period of time.

Common Ping Pong Injury 4: Shoulder Pains

shoulder pain

Some of the most mobile joints in your body when you are playing table tennis are your shoulder joints. Because the shoulder is continuously going through a very wide range of motions and movements, it is the most likely joint of them all to get injured, especially when you play competitive table tennis matches for several hours. The longer you are behind the ping pong table, the more chance there is of developing an injury.

In addition, if you consistently overuse a specific technique or apply a particular technique in the wrong way, you will be even more likely to injure your shoulder. In fact, it is not at all necessary to put so much pressure on your shoulder when playing ping pong, since you will use your energy much more efficiently if it is evenly distributed from your center of gravity. Improving your general weight transfer and honing your basic skills and techniques will especially help you avoid shoulder injuries.

Other Minor Injuries

A few other minor injuries for table tennis players may include blisters, delayed-onset muscle soreness, and Plantar fasciitis. Blisters mainly occur on the skin of the feet and hands. Delayed-onset muscle soreness is also known as DOMS and there are often symptoms of muscle pain, rigidity, and general tenderness. DOMS usually occurs 24 to 48 hours after particularly vigorous matches. Plantar fasciitis is the most usual cause of pain on the bottom of the heel and many professional players wake up with pain in the morning while getting out of bed. This ailment can be alleviated a little by wearing shoes with soft soles.

Case Study: Paul Karabardak 

Another area of the body that can be susceptible to injury is the wrist. British Paralympic table tennis player Paul Karabardak developed progressive wrist arthritis after he had a series of falls while he was training for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. Karabardak suffered from intense pain and aching in his wrist for many weeks. 

Symptoms such as the ones Paul Karabardak suffered are key indicators of wrist arthritis and they are often listed along with swelling, stiffness, weakness, and general instability. Wrist arthritis can develop after a wrist fracture or any other damage to the wrist ligament. Actions such as gripping the paddle or twisting motions can become very cumbersome for people with wrist injuries. You might find that a wrist support is a good way to stabilize your wrist and reduce the amount of stress in this area. 

The progressiveness of Karabardak’s injury meant that surgery was eventually required on his wrist. Every six months he received hyaluronic acid injections. Invasive treatment such as corticosteroid injections was sometimes given when he felt pain while resting. However, over time, these treatments became ineffective and this is why he ultimately decided to have surgery as well. 

With this combination of surgery, physiotherapy, medical treatment, and the wearing of devices such as the Vulkan Silicone Wrist Support, Paul Karabardak is actually continuing to play table tennis. He qualified for the London 2012 Paralympics and gradually increased his training schedule in the weeks before the event.

Other lessons learned from this case are that regular exercise using grip strengtheners, Hand Therapy Balls, and Therapeutic Putty can be good for improving the amount of grip and dexterity in your hands. Regular sessions of physiotherapy with sports doctors and masseurs can also really help slow any further degeneration in the wrist and these exercise and massage sessions can also lead to increased mobility overall.

Qualified doctors may prescribe an anti-inflammatory gel or Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) as treatment options. If you continue to have chronic pain in the wrist, it can also be helpful to use a TENS Machine. Applying cold therapy to the wrist in the form of an ice pack can greatly reduce the amount of swelling and aching.

Case Study: Zhang Jike

Another serious injury occurred in the Chinese Superleague semi-final of 2011 between Timo Boll and Zhang Jike. The Chinese superstar Zhang Jike suffered a painful quad muscle strain during the game and he had to undergo some serious decompression treatment before he was able to keep playing.

Luckily, Zhang prevailed at the end of it all. He won the gold medal by defeating Joo-Sae Hyuk, Wang Liqin, Timo Boll, and eventually Wang Hao in the final. After the final point, he ripped off his shirt in bold defiance of the injury that nearly cost him the entire tournament.

Man warming up his hands

A thorough warm-up is essential for reducing injury risk.

More Valuable Ping Pong Tips To Keep You Healthy

To learn a few more healthy tips that can reduce your chance of getting injured as a player, it is always a good idea to watch better table tennis players at ping pong tournaments. There are lots of tutorials available on Youtube, and you can also see some table tennis matches in person. Watching some of the professional players in action can greatly inspire you to improve many of your own skills and stay healthy at the same time. 

Avoiding tight back muscles can be a good way to ensure that you are playing with the appropriate type of technique. After every match, spend some time stretching your back and giving it a proper warm-up for the next time you get behind your end of the table. This can go a long way towards improving your overall performance and becoming a better player.

Another thing to do is always be extremely careful to avoid calf strains in either of your legs. These can mostly happen when you use your calf muscles excessively during a game without taking enough time to rest. In fact, you do not even have to be playing table tennis at all; just standing in one place for a long period before or between games can sometimes cause this type of injury.

When you think about all of the deliberate quick twists and turns that happen during a game of table tennis, you’ll quickly realize that there’s a lot of potential for calf strains to occur. Calf strains can quite easily be avoided by getting a good amount of rest during practice sessions or during tournaments. Also, be sure to alternate between periods of intense play and those moments of rest with proper warm-up exercises.

Also, always be careful to avoid paddle injuries. These are mainly caused while playing doubles and when you are sharing your end of the table with a partner. These injuries are usually due to one player hitting the other (accidentally while they are both playing the game) with their ping pong paddle. This can range from being glanced with the soft patch of the paddle to more severe blows on the face, arms, or other parts of the body. 

Table tennis paddles are made out of wood, and so they can cause painful impacts. The most important thing to remember to avoid getting hurt is that even if you do happen to get moderately or severely injured, you should always allow your body some space and time to recover and heal completely before playing at full strength again.

Thinking About the Future 

It is very true that you can greatly reduce the risk of getting injured by exercising regularly and warming up properly before every game. Another thing to keep in mind is that people can keep playing ping pong much later throughout their lives than they would do with most other physical sports.

It is good to know that you can keep playing this fun game no matter how old you get, but it also means that you might want to think a little more seriously about which kinds of injuries you are likely to pick up. While the risk of serious injury might be lower than it is for other sports, keep in mind that things like calf strains and pulled muscles can turn out to be much more serious injuries for older people than they are for younger people.

Unfortunately, the risk of injury, even in non-contact sports, tends to increase quite a lot as you grow older. Bones become more brittle and joints tend to wear out more quickly. Also, when you are a younger person, common table tennis injuries do tend to heal a little more quickly than when you are older. So if you are reading this and not taking joint injuries as seriously as you probably should be, just wait until you get a little older and your body doesn’t work as well as it used to!

At some point, a high number of table tennis players will probably begin to suffer from one of the injuries above. Always be sure to stop minor issues from becoming chronic injuries, because those are the ones that could eventually prevent you from playing at all. Following the tips above and visiting a physiotherapist or doctor any time you experience discomfort is the best way to be sure that you continue playing your favorite sport for years to come.

Riley Draper

Avid table tennis player, world traveler, and content creator. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn.