As a practicing physical therapist with over a decade of experience, I’ve seen my fair share of injuries-broken bones, ACL tears and ankle sprains to name a few. But when it comes to golf the most prevalent issues we see at our practice are low back and elbow pain.
Injuries in golf happen all of the time. The problem with golf is that most people who play it seem to put up with injuries and simply ignore them. Most golfers never want to accept that their injuries are a direct consequence of the sport that they love. A sport the gets them outside with their friends, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and challenges both their physical and mental acumen.
If you suffer from elbow or back pain during and after your golf game (or both), you are likely attributing the cause of your injury to some other factor, anything other than the game you love. Unfortunately, the pain generally keeps getting worse despite stretching, ice, rest and pain pills, your game suffers. It no longer becomes fun and ultimately you are forced to stop.
According to the PGA, on average, 1/3rd of injuries that a recreational golfer will suffer are likely to be back problems and another 1/3rd are likely to be golfers elbow.
LOW BACK INJURIES
So how come so many back injuries? Well let’s think about your golf swing. The Titleist Performance Institute has identified the major swing characteristic that is the #1 cause of low back pain in golf. It’s called early extension (See pictures below).
Early extension occurs when the hips and spine of a golfer start to straighten up too early in the down swing. Early extension causes the upper body to lift up and does not allow the lower body to rotate through impact, causing stress on the joints of the lower back in order to complete the swing.
Now think of all the hours spent practicing, all of the rotations and all of the time you lost your golf posture and swung the club with early extension. It’s no wonder poor form and poor mobility lead to low back pain in golfers.
Golfers elbow is a sharp pain on the inside of your elbow when you grip the club or impact the ball. The tighter your grip is the more the pain you’re in. It’s an over use type injury where the tendons in your wrist and elbow are under way to much tension. The Titleist Performance Institute has also identified a few common swing characteristics that can lead to golfers elbow. One of theses characteristics is called slide (See pictures below).
A slide is any excessive lower body lateral movement towards the target during the downswing. This characteristic makes it very difficult to stabilize the lower body during the downswing, which will eventually rob power and speed from the upper body during impact. Once your lower body starts this forward shift, or slide, you lose sequencing and your upper body essentially needs to “catch up” to your hips.
In this case, we tend to grip the club harder, open our club face and transfer force through the inside of the elbow. Pain may be immediate or it may take seasons to occur. Again, these injuries are more likely to happen as the result of constantly gripping the club into your swing fault, such as when you are on the driving rang repetitively striking the ball.
To prevent back problems it’s important for you to be doing exercises to strengthen your core muscles at your back and to make sure that the joints are mobile. The ability to squat, have good hip and mid-back mobility and good gluteal muscle strength are ways to prevent early extension and low back pain during golf. The stronger your spinal muscles are the less likely you are to suffer muscle spasms, joint problems or disc issues at your back.
Pay attention to the over use injuries and pain at your elbow. Good hip rotation, mid back rotation and lateral stability of the gluteal muscles and legs will help you properly sequence your golf swing and take the stress off of your inner elbow.
If you’ve been practicing really hard and have some mild aches and pains, please do not ignore them. We’ve had plenty of cases lately where a client has been golfing all spring and summer with aches and pains, practically ignoring them and then walks into our practice unable to stand up straight in acute low back pain after a Sunday round of golf.
About the physical therapist: Brady is a Level One Titleist Performance Institute Certified Practitioner who has worked with amateur and low handicapped golfers for over 10 years. He has completed his Rehab Mentorship at the word renowned Exos, in Phoenix Az. and is an expert in golf rehabilitation and fitness.