Although ball and club do meet rather violently from time to time, golf is not considered a contact sport.
But golfers can be injured in a variety of ways while playing their favorite game — especially if they don’t follow some simple rules about warming up and staying fit.
Dr. Steven Weinfeld, a graduate of Albany Medical College and now a leading orthopedic surgeon at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, is a golfer himself and has plenty of sage advice on how to avoid both nagging and longtime injuries. Dr. Weinfeld plays to a 14 handicap, and considers himself a weekend duffer who competes as often as possible.
“I think the most common injuries for golfers involve lower-back problems and upper-body and extremities issues,” he said. “Leg or foot injuries are not as common. The reason for the injuries is that people don’t warm up adequately, and they don’t have the proper core strength. The turn in a golf swing requires good strength and flexibility. Without that strength or flexibility, golfers can get upper back or lower back strains, as well as shoulder and elbow problems.”
Dr. Weinfeld said that all body muscles are susceptible to injury, and that some of those injuries can be major enough to prevent the person from ever playing again.
“Some of the elbow and shoulder problems we see can stop you from playing, and other injuries make it extremely difficult to continue playing,” he said. “Rib-cage and lower-back problems are very painful. Look at all the problems that Fred Couples has had with his back all these years. The injuries aren’t always nagging ones. Sometimes, they are very serious. You are doing so many different motions with your back. When the trunk winds and the body extends too far in the swing, sometimes, you are not ready for that.”
Simple suggestions can often lead to injury prevention.
”I lived in Albany for nine years when I did my residency at Albany Med, and I know how cool it can be there,” he said. “You should always dress appropriately. Cold muscles don’t react well. And people should realize that they should always wear good golf shoes. Wearing the correct shoes can help your balance, and they can prevent injuries when you are walking on uneven surfaces.”
Finally, Dr. Weinfeld said that if any pain persists for more than a couple of days, it should be checked out by a doctor.
Here are some golf fitness tips, especially for golfers just starting out or players competing early in the season:
1. Take five or 10 minutes to stretch your whole body before playing, focusing on your back, arms, shoulders, neck, hips and legs.
2. If you have not been physically active for the last couple of months, plan to take a brisk walk before playing to increase your heart rate.
3. Strengthen your core by focusing on your abdominal and lower-back muscles for a safer, less injury-prone golf swing. Try doing abdominal crunches, bicycle crunches, planks, side planks, straight leg raises, and superman’s while lying on the floor.
4. When using a golf cart, frequently walk between shots to keep your muscles warmed up and your blood pumping.
5. If you are new to the game, be sure to take some lessons to avoid holding clubs incorrectly, which could cause various problems to your alignment.
6. Go to your pro shop and purchase the correct pair of golf shoes for your body’s alignment — this will not only improve your swing, but will decrease risk of injury.
7. Maintain a healthy weight to avoid plantar fasciitis, which can cause sharp pains when your feet are overused.
8. Drink plenty of water, especially on hot days, to avoid dehydration.
9. During the early months of the season when it is cold, dress warmly to avoid injury.
10. When it rains, be sure to repeatedly clean your golf spikes during your round. This will prevent you from slipping during your golf swing and potentially injuring yourself.
11. If you experience pain, rest briefly and take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory when your round is over.
12. At the end of your game, stretch again to prevent any additional pain.
13. Take a hot shower afterward to loosen your muscles. However, if you have acute pain, be sure to ice that area first to prevent swelling.