It’s that time of the year again. The Masters Tournament has wrapped and some of us are dusting off our clubs in anticipation of a sunny, golf-filled summer. I thought this would be the perfect occasion to talk about common golf injuries—how they happen and what you can do to prevent them.
On the surface, golf might seem like an injury-less sport but statistics show that 1 in 4 golfers who tee up in North America play with some type of injury. Golfers over the age of 50 have a much higher likelihood of injury. Even PGA tour professionals are at risk—they average two injuries per year.
So why do golfers get hurt?
When it comes to injuries, the biggest factor is the ability for tissues in the body to withstand the forces applied to them. Factors such as age, gender, and conditioning play a big part in how the tissues handle this force. Injuries come when tissues can’t withstand the force and break down.
You can develop an injury from a single traumatic force or from repetitive movement (accumulation of force). When it comes to the golf swing, both these instances are possible.
When it comes to a golfer’s body, there are a few common areas where damage occurs: the lower back, the shoulders, and the upper arm (wrists and elbows). Low back injuries are prevalent across all golfers, whereas shoulder injuries are the second most common injury for males; for females, the secondary injuries are to the wrists and elbows.
Here’s a rundown on what’s happening when you hurt yourself playing golf:
The rotational stress of the golf swing puts the small joints, discs and muscles of the back under considerable loads that can often lead to failure. Combine that with the posture of leaning over your club, and the repetition that a round or practice session requires, and it’s not hard to understand why this is the most common area of injury. The best ways to minimize stress through your low back is to make sure to distribute the rotational stress through your legs, hips, pelvis, low back, upper back and neck. When one area doesn’t move well, the other areas have to pick up the slack. Most often, stiffness occurs in the hips and thoracic spine. When these two areas don’t rotate well, it means that your body will try to create as much rotation from your lumbar spine as possible and you’ll get hurt.
To prevent this, develop an exercise program that will improve the areas that are stiff in rotation and strengthen the core and back muscles to help your low back take on those loads. Work on a proper setup posture to achieve a neutral spine position before your swing, then work to maintain that spine position throughout your swing.
The muscles of your rotator cuff stay active throughout your golf swing, but where they are put under the most stress is at the top of your backswing and through impact. Swing plane and proper trunk rotation during your backswing are very important in minimizing this stress. The more rotation your body can comfortably go through in your backswing, the less reaching your shoulders need to do.
There are ways to minimize stress on your shoulder: improve the rotational capability and force production through your spine and/or take a shorter backswing. Many of us try to generate force through impact solely through our arms and this is when a shoulder injury. Working on the length of your backswing to match your body’s ability, perfecting your swing sequence, and exercising your trunk to improve rotation should be your priority if you have persistent shoulder problems persist.
Very similar to the shoulders, issues for your wrists and elbows come from your swing sequence and where you generate power in the swing. Golfers who try to set up power with their arms only are more likely to experience injury in these areas. Females tend to have a slightly higher incidence in the wrist and elbows (versus the shoulders) because they have smaller bone structure and less muscle mass in these areas. That means there’s less adaptability to stress through impact.
Equipment can also play a big role for injuries. Make sure 1) your clubs are the right size and weight for your body and strength, 2) your grips on your clubs fit your hand size 3) your grips are not worn so there is no excess grip pressure are all ways to reduce arm stress.
Working on your swing sequence as to not cast the club or release the hands too early can also minimize stress on the wrist and reduce the chance of hitting a shot fat.
The bottom line
The biggest way to help minimize your risk of injury on the golf course is to make sure you take the proper amount of time to do a warm-up. Increase the blood flow into the muscles you will be using for the swing, make sure your body feels supple and is moving well prior to repeated swings and practice.