Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

Golf Simulator Helps Injured Players Get Back on the Course

Golf Simulator Helps Injured Players Get Back on the Course
Jamie Osmak, an exercise physiologist at HSS, demonstrates the golf simulator at HSS (Credit: Ross Bernhardt)

Exercise physiologist Jamie Osmak is so passionate about golf that missing a week would be out of the question. During the off-season, the New Jersey resident enjoys the sport with a golf simulator. He’s not alone. In the past year, more than 6 million Americans played screen golf, according to the National Golf Foundation. Whether playing at home or at an indoor facility offering a virtual experience, the sport is surging in popularity.

Golf simulators are also finding their way into physical therapy practices. “The high-end models have optically enhanced radar tracking technology that provides an incredible amount of data in terms of golf swing, ball launch and ball flight,” says Osmak, who is TPI-certified and specializes in working with golfers at the Rehabilitation and Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City.

For devoted players looking to get back in the game after an injury or surgery, the objective information provided by the simulator can be a valuable supplement to the doctor’s recommendations and rehab program developed by a physical therapist or exercise physiologist.

Gaining Confidence to Get Back in the Game

“Golfers with a musculoskeletal injury often progress well through physical therapy but feel they need something more to give them confidence in returning to the course,” says Dr. Andrew Creighton, a physiatrist at HSS who played Division 1 golf in college. “Working with the simulator and the performance team in rehab, patients can be tested in golf-specific situations and scenarios. This can give them a better idea of how ready they are to play and how they may need to adjust their game for success.” 

Dr. Creighton counts many golfers among his patients. Before making a diagnosis, he routinely asks them if they have a video of their golf swing. “One of the key points in assessing an athlete is to be able to see them playing their sport, and in golf, it’s huge,” he says.

The Golf-Specific Evaluation

At HSS Rehab and Performance, lower back, hip and shoulder pain are the most common complaints among golfers, says Osmak, who also sees patients following hip, knee or shoulder replacement surgery. The center also welcomes injury-free golfers who want to up their game, assess potential weaknesses and gain tips for safe play.

The golf-specific evaluation at HSS includes a thorough musculoskeletal screening, movement analysis and swing assessment. “Along with our own analysis, the instant feedback from the golf simulator helps us develop a program to enhance mobility, strength and movement patterns to improve performance and help prevent injury,” Osmak explains.

Patient education is critical when a golfer has an orthopedic condition or sustains an injury, according to Dr. James Wyss, a physiatrist at HSS locations in New York City and on Long Island. “The goal is to teach golfers exercises to help them move better and get stronger.  We discuss the kinds of exercises they do when they’re not playing to improve their physical condition and handle golfing better,” he says.

Study: How Arthritis and Subsequent Surgery Affect Golf

A novel study at HSS Florida, the West Palm Beach location of Hospital for Special Surgery, will utilize a new golf simulator to evaluate players with arthritis both before and after joint replacement surgery. “Our system employs advanced technology and complex algorithms to deliver a realistic and immersive virtual golf experience,” explains Dr. Ryan Simovitch, director of the shoulder division and principal investigator.

The study aims to recruit close to 300 patients with knee, hip or shoulder arthritis to find out how the disease affects club swing and other components of the golf game. Participants will be assessed again following joint replacement and subsequent rehabilitation to determine the effect of surgery on their ability to play golf. “During the study, their gameplay will be closely monitored in real time, with the simulator collecting data points from each shot for later analysis,” Dr. Simovitch says.

HSS researchers will use the golf simulator in combination with a highly sophisticated system for motion analysis known as DARI that uses high-speed cameras to capture the golfer’s movements from multiple angles, Dr. Simovitch says. “We will perform motion analysis of the torso, shoulder, elbow, hip and knee while simultaneously looking at vital information provided by the golf simulator such as ball spin, distance, trajectory and smash factor.”   

The study will follow patients over two years to monitor their progress. Dr. Simovitch notes that down the road, their findings could lead to changes in rehabilitation to maximize outcomes for golfers after joint replacement or even lead to modifications in how the surgery is performed.

Ryan Simovitch, MD; Andrew Creighton, MD; James Wyss, MD; and Jamie Osmak, CSCS, TPI, USGTF, all at HSS, contributed to this article.