(HealthNewsDigest.com) - If you think of golf as a low-impact sport, you might be surprised by a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that found nearly 60 percent of amateur golfers will injure themselves at least once while playing the game.
Preventing injuries requires a little time and effort, but can keep you on the course for the long run.
The most common golfing injuries occur in the elbow, shoulder, wrist, back and abdominal muscles, says Nikhil Verma, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center. No matter where the injury, the cause is likely to be overuse.
"Golfing injuries are almost always a result of repetitive motion that increases the loads on tendons or muscles," he explains. When you swing a golf club a few dozen times, you're stressing the same muscles, tendons and joints over and over.
Verma offers the following advice for protecting yourself when you hit the links:
1. Warm up with aerobics and stretching.
Before you begin a round of golf, Verma suggests a short burst of aerobic exercise — a brisk walk, a jog or even a few sets of jumping jacks — to get your muscles warmed up and working.
Next, move into a quick stretching routine that might include a few of the following.
- Upper body: With feet planted shoulder width apart, rotate slowly to one side, hold that position for 10 to 20 seconds, then slowly rotate to the other side. Return to center and reach straight up with both arms overhead, then bend first to the right and then to left.
- Shoulders: Hold both arms straight out to your sides and trace small circles in the air with your hands. Lower your arms and bring both shoulders up toward your ears, then pull your shoulder blades back, down and together. Reverse direction, rolling your shoulders forward.
- Hamstrings: Hold a golf club behind your shoulders with your hands on the end and head of the club. Stand in front of a step and place your right heel on the step, bending both knees slightly. Fold forward at the hips, keeping your spine straight. Rotate your back and shoulders slowly to the left and right. Repeat with your left heel on the step.
- Back: Stand facing the back of a straight chair with your feet apart. Place your hands on top of the chair and lean down, pulling your hips back and keeping your spine straight.
2. Start off slow and easy.
Never rush into a round of golf, Verma says, especially if you haven't played for a while.
He suggests hitting a bucket of balls on the driving range before starting a round, pacing your swings the way batters do when warming up in a baseball game.
"A baseball player will use a lighter-weight bat for several warmup swings, and will also do many half-swings and three-quarter swings," he says. You can do the same by taking practice swings with a light club, working up to your normal full swing.
A program of regular exercises can help you stay healthy by strengthening the areas that are most prone to golfing injuries.
3. To get stronger, get with the program
A program of regular exercises can help you stay healthy by strengthening the areas that Verma says are most prone to golfing injuries. These are some good examples:
- One exercise that can help prevent tendonitis of the elbow, or medial epicondylitis — known as "golfer's elbow" — is squeezing a tennis ball repeatedly for five minutes at a time, alternating hands, to strengthen the muscles in your forearms. Stronger forearms can also help prevent wrist strain.
- Ward off shoulder tendonitis and rotator cuff problems with a shoulder conditioning program that includes both stretches and strengthening exercises. Try the crossover arm stretch:
- Relax your shoulders and gently pull one arm across your chest as far as possible, holding at your upper arm. Hold for 30 seconds and then relax for 30 seconds before repeating with the other arm.
- Oblique strains can turn into nagging injuries that keep you off the golf course for weeks. Prevention requires building strength in these muscles with exercises like bicycle crunches, planks and side planks.
- Back injuries in amateur golfers tend to happen in older players who have the beginnings of arthritis, says Kern Singh, MD, a spine surgeon at Rush with expertise in minimally invasive spine and back surgery. "Improper swing mechanics can aggravate a degenerative condition like arthritis," he explains, "and cause you to start feeling symptoms even if you weren't feeling them before." Singh recommends yoga or Pilates to improve overall flexibility and strengthen the core muscles that support the spine. "Power is derived from flexibility," he says, pointing out that today's professional athletes regularly do yoga to stay in top form.
Helping golfers return to play
With such a high percentage of golfers sustaining injuries during their playing years, it was surprising to Singh that there are no official guidelines for when golfers can safely return to play after spinal surgery.
In August 2016, Singh and his colleagues at the Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Minimally Invasive Spine Institute launched a study that uses 3D motion analysis to quantify golfers' swing mechanics before surgery and again at six weeks, three months, six months and one year post-surgery.
"So far, we're seeing that patients' swing speed and amount of force is greater than we might have expected after surgery," Singh says. "People enjoy a much better range of motion and more strength than we anticipated, and were able to return to play pretty quickly after their procedures."
The study will help surgeons set post-surgery expectations for their patients and might even contribute to nationwide guidelines for when it's safe to return to play after surgery.
For information about enrolling in the study, email [email protected] or call (312) 432-2888.