A sunny day, a manicured course and a bag of golf clubs. What could possibly go wrong?
If you’re one of the nation’s 25 million golfers and an avid player, an eventual golf-related injury is one of the hazards of the game. Whether you putt for a living or walk the course on the weekend, overuse and faulty technique can wreak havoc on a golfer’s body.
“Most golf injuries are the result of overuse and poor swing mechanics,” says Daryl C. Osbahr, MD, chief of sports medicine at Orlando Health.
Treating injuries in athletes at all levels of golf
A golf mecca, Florida boasts more courses than any other state. Dr. Osbahr treats injuries in athletes at all levels of the sport, from casual weekend golfers to the professionals he sees as a medical director for the Arnold Palmer Invitational and an orthopedic consultant for the PGA, LPGA and Symetra Tours.
Caliber of play can determine the extent of injuries and affected body parts. Pro golfers usually have better swing mechanics—and caddies to carry their bulky bags. Their injuries generally result from the stress of hitting hundreds of golf balls daily.
“Professional golfers power their swing with a lower-body and core-based explosion that generates a lot of force as the body coils around the spine,” says Dr. Osbahr. “This repeated rotation to create ball speed can result in more back injuries, followed by wrist, then shoulder injuries.”
Factors that can lead to golf injuries
Weekend golfers’ problems typically arise when they are out of shape, don’t warm up properly and/or have poor swing mechanics. “Rather than generating proper force with their lower body and core, amateur golfers tend to drive their shots with their arms,” says Dr. Osbahr.
“This makes them most likely to injure the elbow, followed by the back and shoulder.”
Single-sport specialization is another concern for golfers of all levels. “When you play only one sport all the time, you put a significant amount of stress on the same parts of the body,” says Dr. Osbahr. “Long term, this can lead to injury.”
Repetitive straining, jarring impact, forceful gripping of the club and arm rotation through ball impact can overload tendons in a golfer’s wrist, elbow and shoulder, resulting in tendinitis or tears.
Too much repetitive torque and compression during a golf swing can stress any joint or strain the lower back.
Preventing golf injuries
To prevent injuries, it’s crucial for amateurs who play a lot to master the appropriate technique through lessons, says Dr. Osbahr.
Savvy golfers also will incorporate a conditioning program to build flexibility and strength into their entire body, including the core, hips and back.
However, if you do experience pain, see a physician dedicated to treating golfers to identify the correct diagnosis and treatment, says Dr. Osbahr.
“No golfer can or should play through the pain. That usually only leads to further injury.”
For golfers sidelined by pain, the first round of treatment usually includes sessions with a physical therapist trained and experienced in treating golf injuries, anti-inflammatory drugs and rest.
“Our goal is to first provide a treatment plan aimed at improving symptoms while avoiding surgery,” says Dr. Osbahr.
“But sometimes surgery is the only option to return the player to the game and potentially avoid further injury. Regardless of initial treatment, our next goal is to alleviate each golfer’s pain, then develop a transition to play program that slowly gets the golfer back on the course safely and effectively without re-aggravating prior symptoms or creating a new injury.
“I always remind patients not to rush it. The ultimate goal is to return golfers to their highest level of play as soon as possible. However, we also want to be thoughtful in the hopes of preventing future injuries and keeping them on the course for good.”