Preventing, Identifying, and Rehabilitating Golf Injuries

Golf season is in full swing. As with any sport, golfers at all levels can experience aches, pains, and injuries when hitting the links. Understanding the most common golf injuries, learning stretches and tips to help prevent injuries, and knowing when to see a doctor are hugely important in keeping golfers playing regularly.

The foundation of a good golf game is to have a consistent, strong golf swing. A good golf swing  requires having proper form and a powerful, flexible core.  Various body parts work together in tandem with each swing of the golf club, so if one portion of your form is lacking, other areas of your body will begin to compensate and this could lead to a painful swing or possible injury.

Jack Nicklaus once said, “Professional golfers condition to play golf; amateur golfers play golf to condition.” That quote accurately sums up why 62 percent of amateur golfers sustain some sort of golf injury in their lifetime. Golf injuries are typically a result of golfers being out of shape, having poor swing mechanics, or not adequately warming up. The most common body parts that sustain pain and injuries from golf are the back, elbow and shoulder.

Lower back pain is the most common golf injury, accounting for around 20% of all golf injuries. It can be caused by improperly bending down to lift something, lugging your golf bag around the course, or most commonly, tweaking a muscle when swinging the club. To best prevent these types of injuries:

  1. Strengthen core muscles. Try doing 2-4 sets of front elbow planks everyday.
  2. Stretch prior to each round of golf. Although it may seem like a simple and basic thing to do, it can make a huge difference in preventing a muscle pull or aggravation.
  3. Always squat to retrieve a ball and to pick up your bag rather than stretching your spine.
  4. Slowing down your back swing can also minimize the stress on your lower back.
  5. Practice good body mechanics. The foundation of a good golf swing requires good balance and flexibility, as well as proper posture.  

Elbow pain is another common ailment that golfers experience. Medial epicondylitis, more commonly known as Golfer’s Elbow, is tendonitis in the tendon that connects your forearm muscle to the bony bump on the inside of your elbow.  Tendonitis in the outside of your elbow is called Tennis Elbow, but don’t be fooled by its name. Tennis Elbow is also a very common injury for golfers. Both injuries are usually caused by the repeated strain and overuse of the forearm muscles through repetitive flexing, rotating, gripping, and swinging. To avoid this injury:

  1. Stretch your arms, particularly your forearms, before playing golf.
  2. Strengthen the forearm muscles by doing light weight training.
  3. Do not lock your left arm when swinging. Many golfers lock it while trying to keep it straight, which puts added stress on it. Try keeping the arm “soft” from start to finish.
  4. Massage and trigger point release help reduce tight areas within muscle tissue. Reducing the tightness helps prevent the elbow pain from becoming an elbow injury.

Shoulder pain is a third often complained about body part as a result of playing golf. The shoulder is the most flexible joint in the body and has the potential for hundreds of different positions. It is the most heavily relied upon joint when playing golf.  The rotator cuff is frequently the source of the pain and injuries here can sideline a golfer for a long time. Torn cartilage and labral tears have become more common and can often be traced to a golfer’s backswing. The labral stabilizes the shoulder joint, so when golfers keep their left arm tight to their chest as they swing back, then can sometimes tear the labrum. To avoid this injury as well as preventing shoulder pain when playing:

  1. Similar to back and elbow pain/ injury prevention, stretching and strengthening are very important.
  2. Massage and trigger point release also helps break up any tightness in the shoulder. It becomes a vicious cycle when shoulder muscles become tight… they are tight which makes golfers stiffen up when swinging, which tightens the muscles further.
  3. Improve a golfer’s swing by encouraging golfers to turn their body more. Players who do not turn well in their backswing often pin their left arm across their chest.   More turn and less swing can improve overall body mechanics which in turn helps reduce stress on the shoulder.

Playing golf at any level can strain muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and nerves. It is important for golfers to be informed and educated on how best to identify, prevent and rehabilitate any pains or injuries. Changing a few habits (stretching before a round of golf); adding a few activities (simple daily strengthening exercises); making slight swing adjustments (to improve biomechanics); and seeking treatment as issues arise (massage, physical therapy and trigger point release therapy) will all make a difference in preventing injuries and keeping golfers out playing.

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