If you’ve ever watched a fast-paced contact sport like football, basketball or hockey, it’s fairly obvious how injuries can occur. A punishing QB sack, powerful drive to the basket or open-ice bodycheck are common in these sports and frequently end up in (understandably) short to long term injuries for the athletes involved.
Common injuries in contact sports include concussions, breaks, sprains, stitches and dislocations which, given the speed and jarring nature of the contact, should be expected. But as with most physical activities, injuries are more of a certainty than an anomaly - and golf is no exception. The question then is, given the slower-paced, methodic nature of the sport, what are the most common golf injuries?
Golf injuries are often the result of endless repetition, extreme rotation and constant stress on various joints, muscles and ligaments. The day to day wear and tear can catch up with you, so make sure to take heed of the below list of common golf injuries and any early warning signs you may experience, so you stay healthy and out where you belong - on the course!
Neck and Back Pain
The majority of people will experience some sort of neck or back pain and/or injury in their lifetime and it seems that if you play golf, the odds are even higher. The constant twisting of your body with each swing puts pressure on your spine and the surrounding muscles, which can either lead to a single, damaging “tweak” or fatigue-related injury over time. And although you should always be keeping your head down (easier said than done!), this also applies for your neck, as you rotate it constantly throughout the round.
Also, consider how much time you spend bent over the ball (especially with your lower irons and putter). This hunched over position is strenuous for both your spine and neck muscles to hold in place, which can result in muscle spasms and/or pulled muscles.
To help avoid neck and back injuries, make sure that you always do stretches that focus on these specific areas before, during and after you play to keep everything loose. Also, try adding some exercises to your workout routine that help strengthen your neck and back - but make sure you don’t overdo it!
Also commonly referred to as “tennis elbow”, tendonitis in your elbow is the inflammation of your tendon tissue and is caused by overusing the muscles in your forearm. Everytime you grip your club you’re using these muscles and when you factor in your practice shots, this amounts to potentially a couple of hundreds shots each round.
Tendonitis becomes more common the older you get and is more likely to occur if you are not gripping your clubs properly, or do not have a smooth swinging motion, as your muscles need to work harder to grip the club. A golf glove can also help improve your grip and may lower the potential for elbow tendonitis.
In most cases, tendonitis will heal over time with rest and by doing forearm stretches and exercises to strengthen the muscle. However, you don’t want to ignore this injury, as it can linger and make your time on the course a lot less enjoyable.
Another key joint during your swing is your knees. Your knees are used to stabilize your hips throughout your swing and can be tweaked easily (especially if you have any existing weaknesses). The result can be as mild as stiff and achy knees, and as severe as torn ligaments.
The pressure on your knees is often due to stiffness elsewhere in your body (i.e. back, shoulders, hips) which causes some of your rotation to twist your knees awkwardly. Always make sure you do a full body stretch before playing and then ice down any pain in your knees after to reduce swelling, especially if you suffer from arthritis.
If your pain persists beyond just general aching, you may want to consider going to see your doctor or physiotherapist to have your knee(s) properly assessed - you only get one pair, so take any and all precautions to keep them healthy!
Wrist, Hand and Finger Injuries
As you can imagine, you use your wrists, hands and fingers constantly when you’re playing golf. The small tendons, ligaments and cartilage in all three of these areas are particularly susceptible to stiffness or injury after many fast, repetitious swings out on the course.
As with most other golf injuries, an incorrect swing can play a large part in this type of injury or something as obvious as hitting a tree root or rock. You can also experience pain at the height of your backswing, when the wrist and hands carry a lot of the force of your swing.
Always make sure that you stretch your wrists and fingers before swinging and giving them quick massages between shots doesn’t hurt either. There are some really good wrist exercises that can help you develop wrist strength as well.
Foot and Ankle Injuries
Your feet and ankles are the root of your swing, pushing down into the ground to start your swing and then shifting weight from front to back foot throughout to maintain momentum. Foot and ankle injuries occur most often when you lose your footing due to an improper swing, striking the ball when your feet are uneven (like on a hill or bank of a pond) or if your spikes are worn down.
To avoid foot and ankle injuries, make sure you’re doing a few ankle rotations before you take your first swings and ensure your golf shoes tied tight and your spikes are in tip top shape!
Hip, Groin and Glute Injuries
Your hips are the main pivot point between your upper and lower body and therefore carry a large portion of the weight on each swing. They also must endure repeated turning and twisting motions that can wreak havoc on your glutes, lower back and groin area, which are the muscles that help manage your hip rotation.
Always make sure that you stretch out your hips (imagine you're spinning an invisible hula-hoop!) as well as your groin and lower back, so your hips get the support that they need. As Happy Gilmore’s mentor Chubbs famously said “It’s all in the hips!”.
So remember, just because you’re not out crashing and banging out on the field, court or ice, it doesn’t mean you’re impervious to injury on the golf course. Always make sure you stretch pre, during and post game, do small golf-centric exercises off the course to build up strength and ensure you’re swing is not (too) out of whack, which can put undue strain on different areas of your body.
Oh and one more thing... WEAR SUNSCREEN!
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