Golf Injury Prevention by Sports Medicine Specialist Dr. James Cunningham

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ONS Sports Medicine Specialist, Dr. James Cunningham, advises golfers that it’s never too late to take measures to prevent golfing injuries.  He shares some insights into the game and a few tips to avoid common golf injuries.

ONS physicians treat a wide variety of conditions in professional and amateur golfers. Of the aches and pains that commonly afflict golfers, low back pain is the most common injury or complaint in both groups. The rotation of the spine as a golfer swings his club toward the ball places considerable strain on the spine and surrounding back muscles. Players who lack ideal flexibility and strength are at particular risk for back strain, but professionals too are at risk due to the regular high demands imposed on their bodies. In general, improving overall fitness and flexibility will result in fewer injuries, swing consistency, improved distance through less compensation and greater power. Most back/spine problems can be corrected by adjusting the dynamics of the players swing, anti-inflammatory medications, or other conservative treatments.

Upper extremities injuries are also common amongst golfers. A golfer’s wrist is particularly vulnerable to injury from overuse or poor wrist control during the swing. Unexpected accidents may also cause injury like swinging at a ball in high grass and colliding with a fixed obstacle like a tree root. Many wrist injuries are caused by improper mechanics. Having a professional check your swing can be one of the best injury prevention measures.

“Many golfers sustain injuries to the back, wrist, elbow and other joints,” says Sports Medicine Specialist Dr. Cunningham. “Newer players are often hurt because of poor mechanics, but avid golfers with years of experience frequently suffer from overuse injuries. As with many sports activities that involve repetitive movements, joint wear and tear may increase the risk for injury. In golf, the combined twisting of the spine and the torque that’s absorbed into the hands while swinging and hitting the ball presents a unique combination of factors impacting the player. If your mechanics are off during any part of that process, you risk being injured.”

Golf injuries occur if the body is not conditioned to go through the motions effortlessly. Swimming, biking, and using the elliptical machine are three of the most effective cross-training exercises that will help the golfer develop and maintain their body conditioning. As with all sports activities, preparing yourself with daily stretching along with regular exercise will reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries. And stretching and staying mobile during the round of golf helps to maintain flexibility throughout the game.

Golf conditioning and injury prevention tips

  • Stretch or exercise at home before leaving for the course. Hold each stretch for 15-20 seconds at a comfortable position.
  • At the course, a quick stretch with the club, prior to lining up your first shot.
  • Stretch from time to time during the game while other players take their shots.
  • If possible, walk instead of using a cart to keep muscles loose, increase circulation and improve cardio fitness.
  • If sore after the round of golf, use ice to reduce inflammation at the elbow, shoulder, knee.
  • To achieve a more powerful swing, consider strengthening your core through resistance training, yoga and or Pilates.
  • Wrist weakness and radiating forearm pain may be a sign of “golfers’ elbow.” Consider having a golf professional check your swing mechanics to avoid a more serious injury.
  • When picking up your ball, always remember to bend with your knees.
  • Pay attention to your body and don’t play if you feel pain or are tired. If something hurts, get it checked out. REST is often the best treatment for minor injuries.