By Jim Aram
While many consider golf to a leisurely pursuit – those that play regularly have probably experienced some nagging aches and pains during the golf season. Many of these injuries can be mitigated and managed through proper knowledge and a little extra time. Whereas many of us have witnessed (and perhaps a few have experienced) a traumatic injury associated with high speed and high impact sports such as football or soccer – approximately 80% of golf injuries occur as a result of overuse.
The most common injury golfers experience involves lower back pain. Not surprisingly, the golf swing’s repeated powerful rotation and extension of the lower back puts a lot of strain on the body’s core and overtime can result in injury. Golfers who carry their own bags report twice as many low back pain injuries as additional strain is put on the back each time the bag is lifted during the round. While walking a golf course can be great exercise – consider investing in a push cart or treat yourself to a caddy once in a while if you prefer to walk a course. Additionally, you can help avoid low back by doing exercises that will increase the extension and range of motion of the lower back and lead hip.
Many golfers also report a high incidence of injury in their elbows. Those who often hit the ball “fat” or strike the ground before making contact with the ball can develop medial epicondylitis, more commonly known as golfer’s elbow. Additionally, those who over swing their clubs suffer from lateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow. Both injuries result primarily from poor swing mechanics and their incidence not surprisingly increase with the frequency of play.
While not as common some golfers may develop injuries to wrists and shoulders. They will most often experience pain in the lead wrist or shoulder (for right handed golfers this would be their left side). Overuse of the wrist flexor and extensor tendon can cause nagging pain in a golfer’s wrist. They can manage the pain with rest, splinting, anti-inflammatory medications and strengthening of the forearm and hand muscles. Problems in the shoulder vary a bit due to the more complex shoulder anatomy. Shoulder pain can result from overuse of the subscapularis (part of the rotator cuff) or pectoralis muscles. Additionally, many golfers suffer from impingement syndrome or a pinching of the tendons of the rotator cuff with range of motion. A good shoulder exercise program tailored to your specific condition can help improve and manage the pain.
When it comes to avoiding or minimizing the occurrence of golf injuries – there are several items that golfers can incorporate to contribute towards a physically pain free round (we all know golf can from time to time be mentally painful). First, warm up before a round of golf. Eighty percent of golfers report that they warm up ten minutes or less before a round of golf. Warm up should not exclusively include time on the driving range and/or putting green. Include a stretching routine that includes the lower back, hips, wrist, elbows and shoulders. Working with a golf instructor to improve swing mechanics offers another opportunity to mitigate golf injuries. Poor swing mechanics not only contributes to a high golf handicap but also can put your body at a disadvantage from repeated nagging aches and pains. Finally, you can avoid injury or at least decrease your risk by incorporating a regular exercise program that incorporates stretching and strengthening your core and all major muscle groups used during the golf swing. You can work with a physical therapist to design and implement a program tailored specifically to address your current weaknesses and build upon your strengths. With a little extra investment of time and knowledge you can enjoy a lifetime of pain free afternoons on the links.