Common Golf Injuries that Occur in the Spring

Orthopaedic & Spine Center
Image of Dr. Boyd Haynes

Boyd W. Haynes, III, MD

Ah, springtime!  The weather is warmer, the sun is shining and everything is in bloom.  After being cooped up inside for the several months of cold winter weather we experience every year, Tidewater residents can be expected to head outdoors and start being active again. Unfortunately, as a Sports Medicine Specialist, spring is also the time I see an increase in the number of golf injuries severe enough that players come to see me for treatment.

Go ahead, admit it.  You can’t wait to hit the back nine and play some golf.  But if you have been riding the couch for several months while waiting for warm weather, your fitness level is somewhat less than optimal. Before you hit the course for the first time, spend a few weeks stretching, doing some walking and add some core strengthening exercises to your routine.   In this article, I am going to discuss this popular springtime sport, the injuries that most commonly happen and how you can prevent them.

Back Issues

If you have degenerative changes (arthritis) in the spine due to aging, your back may already be causing you pain, even if you aren’t golfing. Golfers spend much of their playing time either bent over or rotating their back during their golf swing and they repeat those motions dozens of times.  As a result, many golfers suffer from pulled back muscles, back strain or even bulging or ruptured spinal discs.  Treatment includes modified activity, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections and physical therapy.  Those who have true mechanical issues with their spine, which cannot resolve with conservative treatment, may need surgery.

Ensuring that your back and stomach (core) muscles are strong enough to stabilize your spine will help you to play better and longer without injury.  If you develop your core and find that you still have back pain, hire a golf pro to assist you with your form and the mechanics of your swing.  You may be surprised how a few simple tweaks to your stance and swing can alleviate your back pain.  Supportive golf cleats with cushioning insoles can also help relieve back pain.

Elbow Issues

Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis) is an inflammation of the inner tendon of the elbow.  Curiously, just as many golfers also will have Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) which is an inflammation of the tendon on the outside of the elbow. Both conditions can become chronic and if not addressed early, may require surgery to fix.  Rest, icing, bracing, anti-inflammatory medications and steroid injections are used to treat the condition.  Physical Therapy also helps.

Typically, these elbow conditions are caused because of poor form in the golf swing or because golfers are gripping their clubs incorrectly or too tightly.  Again, work with a pro who can identify your form/grip/swing issues and help you to correct them.  Prevent these conditions by strengthening your hands, wrists and forearms with light weights.

Knee

Often, a golfer comes in to my office and complains of knee pain after playing eighteen holes of golf.  When I tell them that they just walked three to four miles on the course, they seem surprised.  They are also surprised to learn that the rotation of their golf swing puts a lot of stress on their knees.  If they are older, the probably have some arthritic changes in their knee to boot.  Add these together and a sore knee(s) is often the result.  Rest, icing, anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections and physical therapy often help.

Weak knees are much more prone to injury.  Golfers should do exercises to strengthen the muscles of the leg in order to stabilize their knee.  A knee brace may also provide additional support.  Supportive golf cleats with good cushioning can also help with knee pain.  Once more, let a golf pro look at your swing and help you improve your form.

Shoulder

Not only is poor form during the golf swing a major cause of shoulder pain, but doing so repeatedly can cause big trouble.  Often, though rarely admitted, golfers miss the ball entirely while swinging the club, and hit the ground or an exposed tree root, etc., causing trauma to the shoulder.  Commonly seen issues are bursitis, a torn rotator cuff, tendinitis or arthritis. Pain is typically worse at night when trying to sleep.  Treatments are rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections and physical therapy.  If a torn rotator cuff or labrum is the culprit, surgery may be necessary to fix the problem.

Stretch your shoulders well and warm up before playing.  When off the course, do shoulder strengthening exercises at home or at the gym. You may detect a theme here, but I’ll say it one more time:  Hire a golf pro, preferably when you start playing as a rookie, to help you perfect your swing, form and grip.  Doing so, before bad habits take hold, can prevent many of these golf injuries from ever occurring.