If you were not already aware, August is National Golf Month. If you are not a golfer yourself, it is likely that you have a friend or relative who has already been out to the golf course at least once this summer. This particular sport is one that has become more popular within the last 10-15 years. The average golfer is estimated to play approximately 37 rounds of golf per year, spending much more time practicing. It is not surprising then that, with the increase in popularity, there has also been an increase in golf related injuries.
Golf is classified as a low-risk/low-impact sport, but this does not mean that injuries never occur. Golf injuries can range from concussions and contusions to low back pain and electrocution. As you can imagine, concussions and electrocution are the less common injuries that occur. A concussion or a contusion could result from a poor back swing or even an angered golfer throwing a club and hitting a bystander. Electrocution, on the other hand, could be a result of being out on the golf course during a thunderstorm. Despite the fact that these forms of injury are less common than other golf related injuries, it is important to be aware of your surroundings in order to limit your risks.
The majority of golf injuries are actually due to overuse. Common golf related injuries ranked in order of incidence include:
- Low back pain – the most common injury, typically resulting from repeated trunk rotation and extension (backward motion) while swinging a golf club. Golfers who carry their own bag are actually twice as likely to have back, shoulder, or ankle injuries compared to those who do not.
- Elbow injuries– more likely to occur in amateur golfers and are typically a result of poor swing mechanics
- Medial epicondylitis (golfer’s/thrower’s elbow) – can result from hitting “fat” shots (hitting the ground with the club first)
- Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) – can result from over-swinging with the dominant arm
- Wrist injuries– more common in professional golfers and typically occur in the lead wrist (opposite of dominant hand)
- Wrist flexor/extensor tendonitis – due to overuse
- Hook of hamate fracture (small bone of the wrist) – can result from a hard hit off of the ground while gripping the club
- Shoulder injuries – subscapularis (one of the rotator cuff muscles), pectoralis (“Pecs”) and latissimus dorsi (“Lats”) muscles are the most commonly used muscles during a golf swing
- Impingement syndrome (a bursitis and tendonitis in the shoulder) – can result from repetitive motions and poor postural positioning
- Rotator cuff problems – can result from overuse, especially when the muscles are weak
- Arthritis – can result from general wear and tear on the joints, especially with repetitive motions and any prior injury
So what can you do to decrease your risk of injury? For the back, a 2004 study found that increasing back extension range of motion and rotation range of motion of the lead hip (the hip opposite to the dominant hand), may decrease your chances of getting low back pain. Exercises like rows, pull downs, and yoga/pilates can help strengthen the back to avoid injury. For the elbow, golfers elbow can be reduced by slowing down your golf swing so that there is less shock on the arms as the ball is hit. Exercises to strengthen this area include tennis ball squeezes, wrist curls, and reverse wrist curls. These exercises can also be helpful for preventing wrist injuries. For the shoulders, a good warm up with exercises focused on the shoulder muscles, especially the muscles most used during the golf swing, will help to reduce injury. It is important to stretch the arms as well as the back and legs prior to golfing. Don’t underestimate a good warm up by practicing your swing with a bucket of balls prior to starting play. One additional component that is a key for any golfer is a proper swing. The best way to ensure that you do not have poor mechanics during your swing is to have a professional like a golf-pro or a physical therapist assess you. The physical therapist can help you determine the appropriate exercises to do to improve your mechanics. We offer a video swing analysis as part of our golf fitness assessment, here at Advanced Physical Therapy and Fitness.
If you have any questions on this topic or any others in which you are interested, feel free to leave any questions, comments, or suggestions. Thank you for reading and stay active.