Golf. The word carries images of grass, trees, sun and light exercise. This imagery belies the fact that, at times, golf can also be a game of frustration, disappointment and even an occasional injury.
Even professional golfers get hurt. Pros suffer an average of two injuries per year that cost them about five weeks of lost playing time. The sport demands repetitive motions to refine motor skills, which raises injury risks.
Injuries in professionals are most often due to overuse. Injuries in amateurs come more from poor technique.
A golf swing generates power by turning the shoulders as much as possible and keeping hip motion to a minimum. To properly produce power, the body must be tightly coiled to accelerate the club head.
The swing’s forward motion is created by torque (rotational force) that comes from the buttocks, leg muscles and lower back. When the force from one area doesn’t transfer well to another, injury risks grow.
Lower back problems come from the rotation and extension of swinging. Pro golfers can create club head speeds over 120 mph. The torque of such a swing can stress the spine and muscles.
Fatigue and poor flexibility can cause problems. Using a smoother swing may help to reduce torque and any hyperextension of the spine.
Also, watch how you carry your bag. Golfers who carry their own have twice the incidence of back, shoulder and ankle injuries. Think about using a bag cart with wheels.
Golfer’s elbow (or “tennis elbow”) often results from poor swings. It may also be caused by over-swinging or hitting the ground with the club before hitting the ball.
To prevent this, you’ll need to modify your swing. Slowing down may lessen the shock absorbed by your arm. Clubs with large grips, flexible shafts (such as graphite) and larger heads may reduce vibration.
Hands and wrists
The lead wrist (left wrist in a right-handed golfer) is most commonly injured. Tendonitis is most often the culprit.
Golfers are more prone to a type of tendonitis known as de Quervain’s syndrome. It is caused by inflammation of the fluid-filled sheath around the wrist tendon at the base of the thumb.
Treatment for this syndrome and other forms of tendonitis usually starts with splints and ice. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) may be helpful for some patients. Check with your doctor first to see if they are right for you. Once pain has eased, you can start rehab exercises to strengthen your forearm and hand muscles. Your doctor may clear you to go back to the green after you can swing comfortably several times.
Overuse of the shoulder, especially with a poor swing, can lead to rotator cuff problems. The rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that holds the bones in the shoulder joint together.
Golfers often describe rotator cuff problems as feeling like the shoulder is loose or making noise. Injuries are most common in the lead shoulder (left for a right-handed golfer).
Initial treatments for rotator cuff problems are rest and physical therapy. NSAIDs may help reduce pain and swelling in some patients. Always check with your doctor before using NSAIDs. In some cases, a corticosteroid shot may be recommended.
Preventing golf injuries
Warm up. Before playing, do range-of-motion exercises to loosen the back, hamstrings and shoulders. Then hit some practice balls on the driving range.
Exercise regularly. Strengthening major muscle groups can decrease injuries. Cardiovascular work helps for walking 18 holes.
Talk to a golf pro. Learn about proper swing mechanics and equipment that can reduce stresses.
Remember, golf is a sport as well as a game. As with all sports, staying in better shape pays off.