Secrets to an Injury-free Golf Season

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We are happy to announce that Cleveland Clinic Canada is now the featured health columnist for the Bay Street Bull magazine. Below is our first Health Talk column for their recent Golf Issue.

If you’re one of the 1.8 million Canadians who play golf, there’s a 50-50 chance you could be swinging into an injury this year. While golf may not be a contact sport like hockey or football, experts say nearly half of all golfers experience an injury each season. The good news? You don’t need to be one of them.

A golf swing can be a thing of beauty. A complex suite of movements, it involves the whole body, especially the arms. The club and arm act as one in a well-executed swing, so it should be no surprise that most golf injuries are arm injuries. When you hit the ball, the impact travels up through the club and strains the muscles of the arm. When your swing is off, you can do a lot of damage. Striking the ground with the club head can produce stress fractures and a strained wrist.

The older you are and the more you play, the more likely you are to be injured. Weakness in the core muscle group (torso), shoulders or legs decreases the power of your swing. Stiff shoulders, hips and forearms disrupt the optimum mechanics. Players who have these problems tend to adapt and overcompensate, ironically increasing the risk of injury.

Every group of golfers has its own typical class of injuries. Male professional golfers are more prone to lower back injuries, while female professionals are more likely to injure the wrist and shoulder first, and then the lower back. Amateur males commonly injure the lower back, followed by the arm and knee. Female amateurs suffer from elbow injuries, followed by low back, arm and knee injuries.

Many professionals and serious amateurs undertake off-season strength and conditioning programs to prevent injuries. Off-season training should be geared toward developing a good strength base, and minimizing muscle imbalances or weakness. General training should include a proper warm up, flexibility exercises, strengthening for endurance and cardiovascular conditioning three times a week.

Six-to-eight weeks before the season begins, you should introduce training techniques that are mechanically relevant to the swing, and step up general aerobic and anaerobic exercises for strength and endurance.

Overload training (swinging a weighted club) and overspeed training (using a lighter club) can help you achieve peak physical performance by the start of golf season. You might also consider medicine ball throws and trunk rotation with weighted bars to strengthen your arms and core. Alternate arm dumbbell press, dumbbell bench press, back extensions, medicine ball trunk rotation, and resistance-band simulated golf swing exercises to increase the power of your swing can also be added into the mix.

Your aerobics program should include a combination of stationary bike, treadmill and stair-climbing.Together, these exercises will maximize your performance and minimize your risk of injury.

There's no substitute for physical training, but expert advice can also help avoid injury. A physiotherapist who is trained in the finer points of golf can analyze your swing for maladaptive techniques and suggest modifications. Plus, if you are or become injured, the physiotherapist can provide advice on how to safely play with your injury to get the most out your favorite sport.

There are many roads to injury in golf: overplaying, poor swing mechanics, deconditioning, failure to warm up before practice or play. Stick to the straight and narrow path of regular warm ups, strength training and conditioning and avoid injury altogether.

About the author: Aly J. Chunara, PT, is a Senior Physiotherapist at Cleveland Clinic Canada. To book an appointment contact Tamara at 416.507.6673.