Whether you are an experienced golfer or whether you had your first golf lessons last week, you may be experiencing lower back pains, wrist aches and soar elbows. How do you treat these pains and most importantly, how do you prevent these aches and pains from occurring in the first place?
As a low impact sport, golf is not usually associated with a high rate of injury such as rugby, water polo or judo. However, many people who play golf around the world, from beginners to professionals, experience pains in various parts of their body from excessive strain and over exertion. In addition, many golfers fail to consult a doctor or seek medical advice, which may aggravate their condition and ultimately lead to a more significant injury.
You would be surprised how few golfers actually spend time undertaking simple and quick exercises to reduce their chances of injury.
By simply understanding the main causes of injury and pain and following some basic practices to avoid these from happening, golfers can enjoy the game to a greater extent and for a longer period of time.
1. Common golf injuries and treatment
Many studies have been conducted to identify the main areas of injury linked to the game of golf. One of the most reliable studies conducted on this subject matter was completed in 2004 by the Harvard Medical School. Let’s have a look at the main areas, the symptoms and what to do to cure and prevent them from creeping back.
Lower back – 36% of golfers experience lower back pains as a result of playing golf. The motion of the golf swing alone can be the cause of a series of injuries to the lower back. Executing the motion of the golf swing over 60 times in a round of 18 holes but also bending over to pick up golf balls or fix divots may place a great deal of strain on the lumbar spine. The main symptoms of this condition are fairly obvious with shooting back pains, stiffness, muscle spasms and pain or weakness in the legs.
The first piece of advice from both the Australian Journal of Sports Medicine and the above study is to make sure your swing technique is correct. By taking a few golf lessons to correct the simple bad habits we all have could go a long way to improve your lower back problems. Other suggestions are to bend your knees slightly and keep your back straight when you follow through on your swing. Lastly, use a cart or a buggy to carry golf clubs so as to reduce the strain on your back when transitioning from hole to hole.
Elbow – Around 32% of golfers may be afflicted by elbow injuries or pain during and after having played golf. This is mainly due to gripping the club incorrectly coupled with repetitive and sudden force applied to the elbow when taking long shots such as drivers. Pain in the elbow may be a sign of muscle damage or an inflammation of tendons. The most common symptoms are pain when making a fist, weakness in the wrist and/or hand and tenderness and pain in the inner side of the forearm.
The immediate treatment for elbow pain suggested by the Australian Journal of Sports Medicine is to apply ice to the area 4 times a day for 15 minutes at a time and give your golf game a rest. Should the pain be quite intense, over the counter pain relievers are recommended and a visit to the doctor could be in order. In the long run, your swing would have to be reviewed so as to determine whether your technique could be the main cause of such discomfort.
Hand and wrist – Injuries and pain in the hands and wrists are fairly common and they are more often than not connected with the repetitive impact of the head of the club with the ball, or in some cases the ground. When golfers hit the ball, the impact travels through the club and is absorbed by the hands and wrists. As the strokes mount up, they can lead to strained tendons. Over time, repetitive strain and improper wrist motion can cause fractures, sprains, and ruptured tendons that eventually cause chronic pain and decreased mobility.
Although the symptoms are fairly obvious, the immediate and long-term solutions can be varied and quite interesting. There are vibration-absorbing golf clubs that reduce the impact on the hand, which might be a life-saver for some. Secondly, by squeezing a tennis ball regularly, the hand, wrist, forearm and shoulder muscles are strengthened. Lastly, the technique. By using light grip pressure, slowing the backswing, cutting excess wrist motion and avoiding a steep downswing (potentially striking the ground) the chances of reducing hand and wrist injuries are increased.
Shoulder – The rotator cuff in the shoulder is also a quite common area that is prone to injury. The main cause once again relates back to the golf swing and the wear and tear to the muscles and tendons. When the tears heal they create scar tissue that may hinder the desired movement and also increase the sensitivity of the whole shoulder. The main symptoms are pain in the shoulder or upper arm pain when the arm is lifted up and away from the body and pain in the front of the shoulder extending down to the elbow and forearm.
The immediate remedy to a sore shoulder is rest, icing and pain medication. Many exercises can be done however to improve the shoulder ailments over time. Physical therapy including stretching and strengthening exercises are the most common treatments for shoulder pain.
Knees and hips – Both knees and hips may come under unpleasant pressure and strain while golfing. Furthermore they may have the tendency to deteriorate should the golfer have injured these previously. Striking the ground hard during a swing can result in excruciating hip and knee pains. The main symptoms are generalized pain in the knees and hips, clicking in the knee, and swelling of the knees.
For immediate relief, the most recommended treatments are rest, icing, elevation and pain medication. However, wearing knee bandages and braces and golf shoes with short cleats can remarkably reduce the chance of injuring the knees and hips once again. Long cleats anchor your feet while you swing and could strain your knees.
As you will appreciate, while playing golf there are many areas of the body that may be strained or over exerted with repetitive and forceful swings. Having said that, there are also a number of simple exercises and techniques that can be followed to greatly reduce the chance of injury and prevent pain from getting in the way of a healthy round of golf.
2. Tips to reduce the chance of injury
Four things will grossly improve any golfer’s physical health and strength in the long run and in turn improve their game, namely stretching, warming up before playing, regular fitness training programs and correcting one’s swing.
Warming up and stretching before golfing has been shown to decrease the incidence of golf injuries. Apparently over 80 percent of golfers spend less than 10 minutes warming up before a round. Those who do warm up have less than half the chance of injury with respect to those who don’t warm up. Lower handicap and professional golfers were more than twice as likely to warm up for more than 10 minutes as compared to other golfers.
Flexibility, strength, and aerobic training have become increasingly popular among golfers over the past several decades. Early advocates of strength training included Gary Player, the international champion who claimed to have signiﬁcantly increased the length of his drives despite his small physical stature. More recently, players like Tiger Woods have embraced strength and ﬂexibility training and have undertaken regular ﬁtness training programs, whereas more senior players have been exercising to improve their level of play or merely to remain competitive with younger players.
A regular exercise program that includes core strengthening, stretching and strengthening all the major muscle groups can also help decrease your injury rate and increase your playing time.
Swing mechanics also plays a very important role in decreasing the chances of injury and the improvement of one’s game. It is advisable to consult a golf pro to review one’s technique and correct any idiosyncrasies or bad habits.
Golf is a great game that is enjoyed by many around the world. Do a little stretching and warm up before playing if you know how important it is to keep you well clear of common golf injuries.