Noise from pickleball can be annoying. But is it torture? by Cynthia McCormick Hibbert August 7, 2023 Share Mastodon Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Photo by Getty Images With its constant pop-pop-pop, the noise from pickleball, one of America’s fastest growing sports, can be annoying. But is it torture? Nicole Laffan, assistant clinical professor at Bouvé College of Health Sciences. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University Neighbors say yes, according to media outlets including the New York Times. A Canadian couple even went on a short-lived hunger strike to protest the sound from courts next to their house in British Columbia, according to an article in the Washington Post. As pickleball fever continues to grow—and new courts spring up like mushrooms—Northeastern professor Nicole Laffan talks with Northeastern Global News about why pickleball is not dangerous to one’s hearing, even though some feel it threatens their sanity. Danger decibels The decibel level from pickleball can range from 45 to 70, says Laffan, an audiologist and speech therapist and associate professor in Bouvé’s communication and science disorders department. She says 70 decibels can sound like a vacuum cleaner running, while 60 to 65 decibels was the level of her speaking during the interview. “Pickleball is not going to cause noise-induced hearing loss,” Laffan says. Hearing a sound at 85 decibels for eight hours straight is safe, although nine hours at the same decibel level is not, she says. “It’s not just the volume. It’s also the duration.” But Laffan says the duration of pickleball doesn’t pose a hearing loss risk since the decibel level is too low. “Real pain” can occur when noise reaches 120 to 140 decibels, Laffan says. “Pickleball is nowhere near that.” Pickleball is not going to cause noise-induced hearing loss. It’s not just the volume. It’s also the duration. Nicole Laffan, assistant clinical professor at Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences Noisier than tennis A kind of cross between court tennis and ping pong, pickleball uses solid paddles and plastic balls with holes. “It’s definitely noisier than tennis,” Laffan says. Since pickleball courts are smaller, they can also pack in more players. Tennis courts can count as four pickleball courts. If everybody’s playing doubles, that means 16 pickleball players can fit on a court that holds a maximum of four tennis players. The shorter range of pickleball means a lot less time between hits and volleys, producing what the New York Times somewhat poetically calls “an hours long ticktock cacophony that has become the unwanted soundtrack” of neighbors. Listening fatigue “It may just be the constant back and forth (sounds) that can be quite annoying to some individuals,” Laffan says. “There may also be the social noise from multiple players having lots of fun,” she says. “Noise can have different effects for different individuals. If you have a headache, a bouncing ball is going to drive you crazy,” she adds. The Canadian couple who went on a hunger strike told reporters they have endured auditory hallucinations, heart flutters and insomnia—even hearing the telltale sounds of pickleball in their sleep—since courts opened next door to their five-bedroom house in 2012. Other pickleball neighbors have told media outlets they consider the constant pock pock pock sounds a torture they cannot escape, even with windows closed and the TV volume set high. While pickleball noise does not yet fall under torture devices under international law, it does have something in common with torture—its listeners feel powerless to stop it. “The goal (of sound torture) is to cause listening fatigue,” Laffan says. She says pickleball neighbors who feel they are having to make lifestyle changes due to the sounds emanating from the courts may experience anxiety and “psychological distress.” What to do about the noise With lawsuits and complaints about pickleball noise following on the heels of pickleball court openings, can anything be done to make players and neighbors happy? Laffan says planting trees as sound barriers, limiting pickleball hours and preventing the installation of court lighting so people can’t play at night might help to reduce neighbors’ frustration. In the case of the Canadian hunger striking couple, the solution has been a lot more dramatic, the Washington Post says. The city plans to build an indoor facility and is scheduled to close the outdoor courts near their house in November. Cynthia McCormick Hibbert is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her on Twitter @HibbertCynthia.