By this time of the year, most golfers are starting to hit the course again especially those that are not fortunate enough to live in a climate that allows year round golf. Hopefully you took time in the off-season to work on strengthening your body as well as your mind. As you eagerly hit the course, beware of some of these golf related injuries that could sneak up on you, again this spring. Below are common golf-related injuries and pre-season remedies to ensure that you are ready to play all season.
1. The Low Back
Most of us experience low back pain at one time or another. In fact, up to 80% of golfers report golf-related back pain at some point in their career. The normal stresses of everyday life place a tremendous amount of strain on our low backs, and lead to a variety of problems, most commonly degenerative disc and joint disease. Couple this with the added stresses of a golf swing, and you are looking at some serious down time to rehabilitate a low back injury. To avoid this or to speed up healing of a previous injury, you should focus on two main areas. First, it is important to ensure that the joints in your low back and surrounding areas are moving smoothly against each other. This prevents undue stress from accumulating on any one area, which makes that area more susceptible to injuries such as herniated discs and arthritis. Second, it is extremely important, especially in golf, that low back muscles are strong and flexible. Strong muscles in this area help distribute the forces placed on the low back during the very strenuous golf swing. Exercises for the lower abdominal muscles and for overall balance are especially important for stabilizing the low back and providing support.
2. Golfer’s Elbow
Golfer’s elbow is often an “overuse injury,” and is an inflammation of the tendons where they attach on the inside of the elbow. It is often caused by an improper grip, faulty swing mechanics, arm weakness, poor warm-up or cool-down, or any combination of these. The shoulder and poor posture or neck problems must also be considered as potential contributors to elbow pain. There are many steps you can take to treat elbow pain, especially in the off-season. Most important is rest. Second, ice and anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil or Motrin are beneficial. (Please consult your physician before taking any medication.) Massage to that area is also helpful. A physician may offer you a cortisone injection or other medications, while a therapist can prescribe specific exercises and look for other contributing factors. The most important step is to change the stressor on the elbow that originally caused the pain. Working with a physical therapist and/or swing coach in the off-season will help ensure a solid swing that does not increase stress on the elbow.
3. Foot Pain
Golfers many times suffer from foot pain. Most commonly the foot may hurt at the bottom of the heel, along the arch, or at the big-toe joint. This is often caused by foot arch position (a flat arch, or a pronated foot) and improper footwear. Our body relies on our feet to provide a stable base during the very dynamic golf swing. Therefore, it is important to have strong and pain-free lower legs, ankles and feet. The most important treatment during the off-season and extending into the warmer months is to focus on calf stretching, and to invest in good footwear with proper arch support. There are many specialty golf shoe and sneaker stores than can fit you with over-the-counter arch support for your sneakers and golf shoes if needed. In some cases, custom orthotics from your healthcare professional may be required to provide optimal foot positioning. Orthotics can potentially help the foot and ankle, but also decrease strain on the knees, hips and back. Additionally, icing the sole of the foot by rolling your foot on a frozen water bottle can decrease any inflammation that may have built up and contributing to foot pain. If these treatment options still leave you with foot pain, consult your physician and physical therapist who can take a more in-depth look at the mechanics of your lower leg, and the stress placed on your feet during your golf swing.
4. Knee Pain
There are various causes of knee problems related to golf. Most commonly, golfers suffer from arthritis at the knee. The knee can also have injuries that involve the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments that support the joint. Many of these problems are related to the amount of rotation required during the backswing and follow-through. Tight muscles in the hips and low back may contribute to increased stress at the knee. It is also important to make sure that the three main muscles surrounding the knee joint are strong. These three muscles are the quadriceps, hamstring and calf muscles. By ensuring that the main muscles are strong, and the hips and back are flexible, the knee joint is allowed maximal protection against injury. Your physical therapist or personal trainer can help you with flexibility and strengthening exercises to target these areas to decrease stress on your knees. Many patients often ask me about knee bracing after a knee injury. My advice is usually that knee braces are good to provide temporary support after a mild injury, but should not be worn long-term. Any brace that is worn long-term may cause our body to rely on that extra support, and can actually weaken or suppress our own structural support system. Consult your physician and physical therapist for advice on bracing and specific exercises after a knee injury.
5. Shoulder Pain
The shoulder is a complicated joint that allows us much freedom of movement. Because of the large amount of motion available at the shoulder joint, it is very susceptible to injury. Most commonly is tendonitis and bursitis at the shoulder, both inflammatory conditions that are worsened with repeated motions. Besides the usual treatment of rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication, the shoulder is a joint that responds remarkably well to simple strengthening exercises. It is important to strengthen the rotator cuff (a group of small muscles that surround and support the shoulder joint) and the muscles around the shoulder blade. This is especially important for golfers, who tend to overuse the shoulders to make up for lack of flexibility in the spine. Your swing coach may ask you to slow down or shorten your back swing if you have shoulder pain, as this places increased stress on the shoulder.
As with all injuries, whether they are recent or chronic, the important thing to remember is that you do not have to continue to play through pain. The off-season is the perfect opportunity to take some time to dedicate to healing your body. This includes a certain amount of rest followed by flexibility, strengthening and stabilization exercises. There is no short cut to working through injuries. Any time spent in the off-season will surely be repaid many-fold in the upcoming golf season. Take the time now to dedicate to your body and your swing. Your golf game will thank you for it.
Erin Booker, MPT, MTC, CSCS, is a GFM Advisory Team Member.For further information on
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