Whether you're a newcomer to the sport or a seasoned veteran, it won't take you long to realise that, for many players, golf injuries are part and parcel of the game. Although recreational golfers tend to suffer with injuries more often than professional players, the physical stresses and strains of the game at all levels can take their toll.
As many as one in five golfers suffer from some form of injury each year. The vast majority of cases develop over time and are the result of overuse, but the explosive power needed for driving can lead to sudden, traumatic injuries as well. This is especially so in the case of older players whose joints and tendons are less able to withstand higher levels of physical activity.
By far the most common type of golf injury is lower back pain. Players also suffer from shoulder pain, elbow pain, foot pain and knee pain. If you pay proper attention to technique, include plenty of strengthening exercises in your routine and listen to your body carefully (so that you stop and rest at the first sign of trouble), you can minimise your chance of suffering from an injury in the first place and speed up your recovery when you do.
When it comes to the golf swing, proper technique is essential. Without it, the stress you place on your spine will almost always ultimately lead to pain and discomfort. If you continue playing and simply adjust your technique to avoid back pain rather than learning to swing properly, you'll simply transfer the same stresses to your wrists, elbows and shoulders, increasing your chances of injuring these joints as well.
Ideally, you should have your swing checked out by a professional instructor to ensure that you are moving in a way that is least likely to produce an injury. The most common fault is known as a 'reverse angle' during which the spine deviates from the vertical during the swing, significantly increasing stress on the joints.
To protect your spine during the back swing, ensure that you bend your right knee and turn your left shoulder downwards. This is because the thoracic spine, the middle part of your back, is designed to rotate. In contrast, the lumbar region or lower back is not so designed. If you try to rotate your shoulders level, you'll be twisting your lower back in a way that can lead to injury.
On the downswing, make a squat move with your lower body, using your thigh muscles and glutes to generate power. The squat move will ensure that your pelvis moves forward and prevent you from torqueing your spine. At the point of impact, 90 per cent of your body weight should be over your left leg while your hips and shoulders should be level. Too much weight on the right leg means you've overused your lumbar region.
Exercises that build your core strength and stability are great for golf. Planks and seated rotations are popular choices and remember to do plenty of stretches and warm-up fully before you play. If you do find yourself injured, it's best to remain as active as possible, provided that your activity does not further aggravate your injury. This almost always means you need to take a break from playing. A back brace may be useful to improve your posture and reduce pain by making it impossible to move in a way that hurts your back.
Golfers elbow is another common injury and is usually caused by gripping your club too firmly with a technique that relies too much upon the wrist. Rest and ice therapy will usually reduce the inflammation but severe cases may require medication. Learning to grip your club correctly and performing stretching exercises for the wrist muscles can help to prevent problems from returning in the future.
If you find yourself suffering from pain in the heel or sole of the foot while walking round the course, it could be a sign of a condition known as plantar fasciitis. The most common cause is wearing inappropriate footwear that doesn't provide the requisite level of support for the sole and the arch.
If you want to increase the amount of support without changing shoes, you can find special insoles that reduce the amount of pronation - uncontrolled lowering of the arch - while you walk, reducing the strain on the heel. If you are suffering from this condition, ice packs and anti-inflammatory drugs can help.
Knee pain is another common golfing ailment, especially for those who have come to the sport later in life. In many cases, golf itself is not wholly responsible for the pain. Rather, an earlier injury is aggravated by poor playing technique. In addition to prolonged walking, the weight bearing and rotational forces involved in a golf swing can easily cause swelling and eventual pain. Once again, mastering proper swing technique will reduce your chances of suffering from this type of injury.
It is vital to tackle knee pain as soon as possible as a failure to do so can cause weakness in the thigh muscles which then increases the strain on the knees. Exercises that strengthen your hamstrings and quadriceps such as lunges can be extremely beneficial. Taking a break from golf until the swelling goes down is the best course of treatment. Using ice packs (although never directly on the skin) can speed recovery and a knee brace can provide additional support when you feel ready to return to the game.
If you swing with your elbows bent at the point when you make contact with the ball - known as chicken winging - or your lower back is rounded, giving you a C-shaped posture while you swing, you will be placing too much stress on your shoulders and risk damage to your rotator cuff muscles. It is crucial to rest at the first sign of discomfort as failing to do so can lead to small tears in these muscles that can take far longer to heal.
Having your swing assessed by a professional instructor is by far the best way to ensure you never suffer from shoulder problems. Exercises to strengthen your shoulders and stabilise the joints, either using weights or resistance bands, are also beneficial and can help to prevent injury.