By the time you add warm-up swings to practice swings and real swings, these short duration but extremely powerful motions are repeated hundreds of times per round. Many of the forces produced during a golf swing are double the amounts considered safe for the spine in industrial settings.
While the back is certainly one part of the body often hurt while playing golf, the wrists, elbows, neck, shoulder and knees are also prone to problems. The short length of the golf season means that early and effective recognition and treatment of golf injuries are very important to gain the most enjoyment from this popular sport.
Injuries to the lower back account for the largest number of golf ailments, especially among male players. Incorrect swing, miss-hit and failure to warm up often cause injury to those who golf for recreation. Addressing the ball without adequate knee bend, over-rotation of the trunk on the back-swing, and excessive sideways motion of the hips on the down-swing (called hip slide in golf language) are common technique faults leading to back problems.
Not all back injuries can be blamed on the swing itself. At least 80 per cent of people develop low back pain at some point in their lives. This means there is often a disease or underlying weakness in the back waiting for the right (or wrong) opportunity to strike.
The bending and twisting nature of the golf swing along with lifting clubs out of the car, leaning over putts, and bending over to place and pick up balls and tees, can all aggravate back problems.
With care, back injuries can be prevented. Regular and pre-game stretches and exercises to strengthen the body help, as may changing your technique. This may include using better posture when addressing the ball, shortening your back-swing, flattening the swing plane, and finishing in a more upright, relaxed position.
The wrist is often injured through overuse, although striking a buried object with a club also accounts for some injuries. Women are more at risk than men for wrist problems which may be related to weaker muscles. Research has shown that golfers who experience pain from overuse tend to use too much wrist motion when completing their swing. Strengthening exercises, wrist supports and graphite shafts can often help players with weaker wrists. Graphite is about 20 per cent lighter than steel and does a better job of reducing vibration.
Elbow injuries among golfers are seen often enough that golfer’s elbow is a recognized medical condition. It causes pain on the bony knob on the inside of the elbow. The muscles that flex the wrist and fingers attach here. Golfer’s elbow usually occurs on the trailing elbow (the right elbow of a right-handed player). A sudden slowing of the speed of the club, which can occur when taking deep divots or hitting directly off the mat at a driving range, can cause this problem.
Another elbow injury, known as tennis elbow, is also common among golfers. Tennis elbow refers to pain on the outside of the elbow. Both elbows are susceptible to tennis elbow. The injury occurs in much the same way as a golfer’s elbow. Wrist stretching is extremely important for preventing and treating elbow problems.
A final injury to discuss deals with shoulder problems. The most common shoulder problem in golf is injury to the rotator cuff muscles. There are four rotator cuff muscles in each shoulder. They all start from separate parts of the shoulder blade, pass under the large shoulder muscles, and attach as one broad band around the very top of the upper arm bone. These muscles help rotate the upper arm, plus keep the shoulder joint stable.
Research has shown that the rotator cuff muscles are the critical shoulder muscles for correct extension of the golf swing. The rotator cuff of the leading shoulder is the most susceptible to injury. Rotator cuff injury is especially common among senior golfers, and is partially due to degenerative changes that often occur within the rotator cuff tendons with age. Over-swinging and taking deep divots are common technique faults that can bring on a shoulder injury.
To help decrease these and other golf related injuries, there are a few basic guidelines to follow.
Shoulder External Rotators
Attach some exercise tubing at about elbow height. Hold the other end of the tubing as shown. While keeping your elbow bent and your upper arm against your side at all times, rotate your lower arm out away from your body—against the resistance. Perform two to three sets of 10 to 20 repetitions on each side. Fatigue should be felt in the back of the shoulder. These muscles are typically the weakest shoulder muscles.
Sit and rest the inside of your forearm on the top of your thigh. Without letting your upper arm move, slowly twist the club from side to side. The club should move in a vertical plane as you rotate it back and forth. Attaching a light weight (e.g. taping a golf ball to the club face) will make the exercise harder. Perform two to three sets of 10 to 20 back and forth rotations on each wrist. Fatigue should be felt on the inside and outside of your forearm and elbow.
Stand on one leg without holding onto anything. As soon as you feel steady, close your eyes. Try to maintain your balance while your eyes are closed. If you start to lose your balance, open your eyes and place your raised foot back on the ground. Make sure you also have a bench or table to grasp in case you need to catch yourself. After about one minute, stop, then switch legs. You can make the exercise even harder by standing on a pillow or fluffy towel.
Lie on your back with knees bent. Pull your toes (but not your heels) off the floor. Overlap your hands and keep your elbows straight. Gently draw in your belly button, then curl up your trunk until the finger tips of both hands just reach your left kneecap. Your shoulder blades should only just come off the floor. Hold for two to three seconds then return to the start position. Keep your chin slightly tucked in. Do 10 to 20 repetitions then repeat the exercise reaching for your right knee.
Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent and your arms across your chest. Lift your pelvis as high as possible off the floor by tightening your buttock muscles. Hold briefly then return to the start position. Straightening one leg while bridging will make the exercise harder. Fatigue should be felt in the buttocks and hamstrings.
Lie on your stomach. Place your hands close to your body. Keep your knees in contact with the floor. Tighten your abdominals and keep your thighs and trunk in a straight line. Perform a push-up by straightening your arms as far as possible. Return to the start position and repeat 10 to 20 times. Fatigue should be felt in the back of your upper arms, chest and abdominals.