Editor's note: Unedited b-roll of Dr. Fred Parker speaking to this topic is available for media. Download 720p version here. Download the SD version here.
With proper technique and conditioning, golf is a sport you can play for a lifetime. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, golf can also be the culprit to back, shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries.
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“Most injuries have a lot to do with technique,” said Dr. Fred Parker of Novant Health UVA Health System Bull Run Family Medicine in Manassas, Virginia. “The golf swing should be a fluid motion and the grip should be comfortable.”
Dr. Scott Ross of Novant Health UVA Health System Bull Run Family Medicine in Linton Hall, Virginia, added: “Over use is also an issue. If you feel like something’s hurting, you need to rest and re-evaluate your technique.”
Here’s a rundown of common golf-related injuries.
“The most common injury from my standpoint is back pain,” Parker said. “A golf swing requires a lot of movement in the shoulders and hips, and depending on the technique, you can put a lot of pressure on the lower back.”
Parker suggested conditioning as a way to prevent back pain. “Core strengthening and an emphasis on proper swinging techniques can help prevent a back injury,” he said. “It’s also incredibly important to make sure you warm up and stretch.”
However, a repetitive motion can eventually cause back pain, regardless of technique. Parker noted that even professional golfers have lower back pain.
Ross and Parker both said they see patients with rotator cuff injuries, but they noted it’s more common in baseball, swimming and tennis.
“Although you’re not reaching directly overhead, there can still be a stress on your shoulder in the golf swing,” Parker said.
Parker said band exercises can help strengthen the external and internal rotators of the shoulder, though this exercise isn’t as important for golfers that don’t have shoulder symptoms. He also recommended taking practice swings and raising the club over your back to stretch your shoulders.
“We see a lot of golfers with the traditional golfer’s elbow, or an injury to the inside of their elbow,” Ross said. “Golfers who repeatedly hit the ground too hard with their club can cause a shock injury to their dominant hand.”
On the other side, golfers who put too much force in their swing can put stress on the outside of their elbow.
“Injury to the outside of the elbow is more commonly referred to as tennis elbow, but golfers can still develop it,” Parker said. “Tennis elbow happens more to a golfer’s nondominant elbow and is a result of trying to swing the club too hard.”
“Other golfers put too much wrist in their swing,” Ross said. That means using your wrist to lift the club instead of your arms and body.
Parker said he’s seen some golfers get tenosynovitis of the wrist, which affects the tendons on the thumb side, and even carpal tunnel syndrome.
“We’ve also all heard the classic story of swinging down hard with your club and hitting a root,” Parker said. “That can break one of the bones in your wrist and can be quite painful.”
And what if you incur an injury from too much tee time? Ross said the ideal treatment for all of the aforementioned injuries is rest.
“Improve your technique, stretch, do some strengthening exercises and take anti-inflammatories,” he said. “But we can’t stress proper technique enough.”
Parker mentioned it’s important to remember that despite the risk for injury, golf is a great way to exercise.
“If you walk tee to green on every hole, you could walk four and a half miles on the course,” Parker said. “Plus the bag is probably 30 pounds with all the clubs inside, so that’s an incredibly good exercise.”