Golf Injuries

Injuries associated with golf tend to be chronic, and arise from the overuse of a weak or malfunctioning area of the body. Because golf is not a contact sport, the sort of traumatic injuries due to collisions are not typical.

The most common golf-related injury is pain in the lower back. Recreational golfers who play only sporatically can suffer from back pain because the motion of the golf swing places an unusual strain on the back muscles. A recreational golfer's swing is often not as finely-honed as the swing of a more experienced golfer or a top-flight professional. Instead, the swing may be jerky and involve a sudden lash at the ball, which puts a stress on the muscles of the lower back.

Even professional golfers can experience back problems. This has become more prominent since the 1990s, when propelling the golf ball further down the fairway became the aim for many professional golfers. Before this, accuracy was paramount, and the golf swing tended to be slower and more rthythmic. In the era of "power golf" many golfers have adopted a greater shoulder turn with less turning of their hips. While this swing can produce a faster swing, it comes at the expense of greater strain on shoulder and back muscles.

The golf swing also places a stress on the spinal column, which can result in the compaction of some of the discs that separate the bones of the spine. Relief from herniated discs requires the aid of a physiotherapist or chiropractor and, in more severe cases, corrective surgery.

Another vulnerable part of the golf swing is the top of the back swing. An over-extension of the swing in an effort to generate more power in the subsequent down swing can hurt the shoulder muscles.

Another part of the body that can be injured in golf are the wrists and hands. Becuase the golf swing culminates in an impact with the golf club and the ball, a shock is generated. This is akin to the shock produced when a baseball bat contacts the speeding baseball. If a swing is properly executed, the force of impact is minimal and does not hurt. However, a "mis-hit" can hurt the hands and wrists. Although contact of the club face with the ground occurs during the swing, a controlled swing removes just a bit of the turf. When a swing is less controlled, a club may dig deeper into the ground, and the club speed can be slowed quickly and dramatically. This can also happen when a shot is taken out of the deeper grass lining the fairways (the "rough"). The sudden loss of club head speed from a "fat shot" puts a great strain on the wrists. Although uncommon, wrist fractures can also occur.

Wrist injuries can also result from excessive hand motion during the back swing and down swing. Some golfers believe that flexing the wrists during both phases of the swing will produce a more powerful stroke. Instead, the stroke becomes less powerful and inflammation can develop in over-used wrist ligaments and tendons.

Tendon injuries in the wrist and hand such as inflammation (tendinitis) and De Quervain's disease can result if the golf club is gripped too tightly during the swing. Some golfers will grip the club very tightly, assuming that this will produce a more powerful swing. In fact, the opposite is true. Moreover, a gentle grip is less debilitating. The swelling and pain of a tendon injury can make golf impossible. Use of a wrist support and anti-inflammatory medication can provide relief of milder injuries, but more serious injuries often require surgery.

Joints are another potential target for golf-related injuries. The elbow joint is repeatedly used and can become inflamed. The same condition occurs in tennis. Indeed, lateral epicondylitis is popularly known

The sudden loss of club head speed from a "fat shot" puts great strain on the wrists.
as "tennis elbow." In right-handed golfers, the outer part of the left elbow is especially vulnerable (the location is reversed for left-handed golfers) due to the contraction of the muscles and tendons that occurs as the club head nears the golf ball. This contraction helps maintain the club head on a controlled arc so that proper impact is made with the ball.

Overuse injury to the muscles and tendons on the inside of the elbow (usually the elbow on the forward or "leading" arm) is called medial epicondylitis. This is popularly dubbed "golfer's" elbow. Besides elbow pain, this condition also produces wrist pain and a weakened grip.

Short-term relief for elbow injuries can be provided by cortisone injections. Use of thicker grips on the golf clubs can also help. Longer term relief usually requires a revamping of the golf swing to end the chronic muscle and tendon aggravation.

The hips and shoulder joints can also be injured. As with the elbows, the injuries result overuse. Shoulder injuries involve inflammation of tendons and bursa (the fluid-filled sacs surrounding tendons; the conditions is called bursitis). Muscle injuries can alter the movement of the shoulder joint; the condition, which is called a rotator cuff injury, also can afflict baseball pitchers.

A common cause of golf injuries is the lack of a warm-up prior to beginning a round of golf. Stretches that target the shoulder and back muscles are particularly important. Nonetheless, to their chagrin, many golfers regard stretches as a non-essential facet of the sport.

Until the 1980s, even professional golfers paid little attention to physical fitness and flexibility, believing that the sport was not rigorous enough to require a conditioning regimen. That attitude has changed, and nowadays the fitness trailer is an ever-present site at professional golf tournaments. Weight training to strengthen key muscle groups and flexibility exercises are as important to top-level golfers such as Tiger Woods as the time spent on the practice range honing their shots.

SEE ALSO ACL injuries and female athletes; Cortisone steroid injections; Sports injuries.