Golf presents a unique opportunity in that players can participate in the sport from a very young age, and long into their retirement years. Although it is not a contact sport, there a number of common golf-related injuries that can hamper the professional and amateur golfer alike. Studies report that the prevalence of injuries among golfers may be as high as 62.5% annually. Injuries most commonly occur from overuse or from biomechanical or technique errors. Here we will outline some of the most common golf-related injuries and some typical causes.
Overuse injuries are particularly prevalent in golf as in a single round of golf, a golfer may swing the club up to 100 times (and for some of us, even more). The repetitive nature of a golf swing means that particular areas such as the back, shoulders elbows and knees are unevenly loaded unilaterally (on one side). Golfers who play and practice regularly such as professionals or lower handicapped golfers are more prone to these sorts of injuries as they would perform a much higher number of swings on average per week.
Lumbar spine (Low back) injuries
These are by far the most common golf-related injuries, occurring in around 34-55% of golfers. In the amateur population is not entirely clear as to whether these are purely golf injuries as a significant portion of the normal population complain of low back injuries outside of golf.
In professional golfers, the occurrence of lumbar spine injuries is much higher. This is likely due to the high rotational forces that the spine is subjected to throughout a swing and the high number of swings performed.
For the amateur golfer some contributing factors to lumbar spine injuries are;
- Poor setup posture
- Reduced lumbar and thoracic spine mobility
- Weak core and glutes
- Rushed or absent warm-up
Lumbar spine injuries can be treated by a physiotherapist at the PGA Centre for Learning and Performance with “hands on” treatment, advice about your warm up routine and some specific golf stretches and strengthening exercises. It is also important that any swing errors be assessed by a golf professional to reduce the likelihood of reoccurring injuries.
Elbow and wrist injuries
Elbow and wrist injuries occur in up to 24% of golfers and can be caused by a number of swing errors and are far more common in amateurs than professionals for this very reason. These injuries include medial epicondylitis (Golfer’s elbow), lateral epicondylitis (Tennis elbow) and tenosynovitis. Interestingly enough, lateral epicondylitis (Tennis elbow) is 5 times more common that Golfer’s elbow despite the name.
Swing errors involve:
- Steep swing path (a common cause of a slice)
- Deep divots which cause rapid deceleration of the club at impact
- Poor grip leading to improper wrist mechanics
Shoulder injuries (rotator cuff)
Shoulder injuries usually occur during the back-swing phase, which the shoulder externally rotates to increase range of movement, during impact (for the lead shoulder), or during the follow through at the extreme of internal rotation and horizontal flexion (with the arm across the body).
Common errors include:
- A hunched setup
- Poor day to day posture, particularly for those who work at a desk for much of the day
- Pre-existing shoulder injuries such as osteoarthritis, rotator cuff tears and AC joint pathology
- Poor mobility through the thoracic spine, causing the shoulder to make up for loss of range
As the golf swing involves the whole body, and there are many moving parts involved – it is important to have a trained professional assess your swing or injury to see whether changes can be made to reduce the likelihood of you being injured.
At the PGA Centre for Learning and Performance, we have a team of professionals including physiotherapy, golf coaches and exercise physiology. Whether you have an injury, want to reduce your handicap or improve your strength and fitness, we can provide for your needs. Private health rebates are available for both physiotherapy and exercise physiology clients.