We all have our good and bad days on the course. Usually, a stop at the clubhouse and a cold drink is all we need to celebrate a low or forget a high score. Once in a while, however, a day on the course hurts more than our pride.
In reality, it’s not just the contact sports that produce pain. Even your most relaxing day on the links can lead to injury. If you want to achieve top athletic performance, you need to think about more than your equipment.
The key to feeling and playing better lies in your skills and your flexibility and athleticism. Here are eight of the most common golf injuries along with how you can treat and prevent them.
8 Common Golf Injuries & How to Avoid Them
Foot and Ankle Pain
Eighteen holes, on average, can mean anywhere from three to six miles of walking. And even if you prefer, like most, to use a cart, a golf swing requires extreme and instant weight shifts, adding work to already tired feet. After 18 (or even 9) holes, our feet and the tendons and muscle within can become strained.
The first answer to this, and many other injuries, is to improve your swing mechanics. There’s a reason golf instructors teach precise movements. Not only do they promote proper performance. They protect your body from harm. Also, one easy fix for your feet that doesn’t require an instructor is to wear properly-fitted golf shoes.
The extreme ranges of the backswing and follow-through require that you have sufficient ankle and foot mobility primarily tilting side to side (inversion and eversion). If you don’t have sufficient motion at the ankle you may feel strain in the ankle or it may show up in your knees or further up the chain.
When you think about it, it’s easy to understand how walking the course or even getting on and off a cart could cause some pain. What we don’t realize is that the swing itself can also put a strain on our knees. And, as we age, the cartilage in our knees slowly degenerates if we lose the appropriate space in the joint.
Rotation of your lower leg in relation to your thigh is something that is often overlooked as an important prerequisite for a pain-free golf swing. If the knee doesn’t rotate this will force you to compensate with your swing or strain ligaments and other connective tissues in the knee. Practicing tibial rotation can lubricate the knee as well as prevent loss of joint space.
In order to swing a club with power, your body must generate a significant amount of rotational force in the hips. To do this, we rely on strength from the legs. Despite the fact that healthy hips have an extensive movement radius, loss of rotational capacity in the hips means reduced capacity for swing length and power. This forces other body parts to move more that shouldn’t, like the lumbar spine.
The answer to treating hip pain is to make sure you have a proper workspace in the hip by restoring rotational capacity, then control, and finally strength. To prevent injury, you need an established warm-up routine, the proper mobility, and stability at specific segments of your body, and finally to have body control, which assisted stretching can help with.
Elbow and Wrist Pain
Sometimes the problem with your game lies not in the club you’ve selected but in the arms that are swinging it. Injuries to both the elbow and wrist are common in golf. Tendonitis can develop when you are stressing tissues beyond their elastic capabilities.
Wrists and elbows need to be strengthened at extreme ranges of motion due to the high velocity involved in the golf swing. First, you must evaluate how many degrees of freedom you’re missing and then you can start to work on improving flexibility and then strengthen throughout your new range of motion.
Shoulder (Rotator Cuff) Injuries
Shoulder injuries aren’t only for MLB pitchers. Combine an inefficient golf swing with poor shoulder architecture and voila’, you have an injured rotator cuff. Combine that with trauma from mishaps on the course like falling off the cart (yes, it does happen), and you have even more pain.
If a shoulder injury is severe enough, surgery may be required. Overall, the best way to avoid shoulder injury is to improve workspace in the joint and harmonious contraction of the rotator cuff muscles, then to make sure your swing is efficient for your body.
Remember the three to six miles of walking for eighteen holes? Imagine the work your back has to do if you also carry your clubs all that way. Even if you take a cart, consider the time you spend leaning over to swing or pick up balls. Add in the repeated twisting motion of your swing and it’s no wonder many golfers struggle with back pain. You may think you don’t use your back much in golf, but your score doesn’t lie.
While heat and a variety of medicines can help ease lower back pain, making sure the pain doesn’t return involves strengthening the back and increasing its range of motion, which means specific stretching to restore fundamental spine movement.
Sometimes you want to see where your ball lands, sometimes you don’t. Either way, you always turn your head to look. This repeated snapping of the head, especially in newer players, can cause residual neck pain. Your shoulders and head need the ability to move as separate segments so your head can stay still as your shoulders rotate. If your neck doesn’t have the flexibility for this you can experience extreme tension with every swing.
Aside from warming up, which we should all do, treating and avoiding neck pain requires stretching and strengthening the muscles on all sides of the spine.
And now for the most commonly known but least prevented golf injury: sunburn. Is it any surprise that hours out on a beautiful day can take its toll on any exposed skin? Sun damage can not only lead to premature aging, but also skin cancer.
As for treatment, aloe vera and time are the best options. Make it a ritual to put SPF30+ sunscreen on all your exposed areas before and during your day. And, of course, hats, visors, and breathable fabric help with covering up.
How to Prevent Golf Injuries
As you can see, even though golf is a non-contact sport, it’s not injury-free and you may not feel the effects of your round until the next day. The best way to prevent injuries is to warm-up and keep your body conditioned and flexible. And of course, keep improving your swing.
May your scores be low and your injuries even lower! For more information about what flexibility and range of motion can do for your game, contact the experts at Stretch Affect in San Diego at (619) 389-3718.