Is there anything better than spending a warm summer day on the links? Summer is the perfect time for golf–but whether you’re a semi-pro or a weekend warrior, golf injuries happen more frequently than you might think, and they can happen to just about any part of the body. Most golf injuries aren’t considered too serious and can be treated with rest, ice, or non-prescription pain medication. But it’s certainly possible that a serious injury can occur. Let’s look at some of the most common golf injuries and how to best treat them.
Shoulder/Rotator Cuff Injuries
If you read our blog about common baseball injuries, you probably noticed that rotator cuff injuries were at the top of the list. And while these shoulder injuries may be more common for baseball players, they occur pretty regularly with golfers as well. As we noted in the baseball injuries blog, the shoulder is a very complex joint, and at the heart of it is the rotator cuff, a set of tendons and muscles that provide stability in the shoulder.
How It Can Happen: For golfers, rotator cuff and shoulder injuries are often the result of inexperience. How? Because smooth, fundamentally sound swings go a long way toward avoiding injury. Poorly executed swings can lead to shoulder injuries such as tendonitis, bursitis, and even rotator cuff tears. Age plays a role as well.
Symptoms: Pain is usually a good indicator, as is swelling and arm weakness. You might also experience difficulty raising or rotating your arm.
Treatment: For minor injuries, the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can alleviate the pain and swelling, but physical therapy is often the most successful approach to shoulder and rotator cuff injuries. At Physical Therapy NOW in Irving, for example, we would customize an exercise program to your shoulder pain so you can regain strength and restore flexibility. More serious injuries could require injections or surgery, followed by PT to help the shoulder recover.
Golfer’s Elbow/Tennis Elbow
If you haven’t heard of golfer’s elbow, perhaps you recognize the term “tennis elbow”? They’re essentially the same thing, but they affect different parts of the elbow. Tennis elbow is tendonitis (irritation and/or inflammation of the tendon tissue) in the outer tendon. Golfer’s elbow is tendonitis of the inner elbow tendon. Interestingly enough, more golfer’s suffer from tennis elbow than golfer’s elbow.
How It Can Happen: Much like a shoulder injury, elbow injuries among golfers are often the result of an improper swing. But this injury can also occur from the repetition of the swinging motion. And, as with shoulder injuries, age is a factor.
Symptoms: It’s no surprise that pain and tenderness are the most common symptoms of elbow tendonitis. Sometimes this pain can move into the upper and lower arm as well as the wrist and the hand. People with elbow tendonitis might experience more pain when doing simple everyday activities such as turning a doorknob, holding something, lifting an object, or even shaking hands.
Treatment: Unfortunately for avid golfers, rest is generally the best treatment for golfer’s or tennis elbow. Avoiding activity with the elbow helps the tendon heal. Ice treatment is also effective in calming down the inflammation. An elbow brace can help the healing process by allowing the tendons and muscles to rest and by preventing further injury. There are also quite a few exercises that can be done with a physical therapist as well as at home, designed to strengthen the muscles around the elbow.
Between the upper body’s rotation from swinging and the constant bending over during a typical round of golf, it’s no surprise that golfers often sustain back injuries–both minor and more severe.
How It Can Happen: As mentioned above, the stress that the lower back takes on from the rotation of a golf swing (especially a drive) can lead to back pain. And think about each time you line up a shot, whether it’s a drive off the tee or a 10-foot putt–your upper body is hunched over your club, which doesn’t help matters. And you perform these motions dozens of times during a typical round of golf. Not to mention the constant bending over to tee up your ball and retrieve the ball from the hole.
Symptoms: For lower back pain, there are a few common symptoms. Stiffness makes it difficult to straighten up/stand up straight and get up from a seated position; you may also experience limited range of motion due to lower back stiffness. Muscle spasms are also common–and quite painful–in the lower back after an injury. Depending on the injury (such as sciatica), you might experience pain and numbness down the lower back and into the buttocks, the back of your thighs, and even down to your feet. For upper back injuries, you’ll likely feel the same type of pain, stiffness, or numbness, but up in the area by the base of your neck, between your shoulder blades, and into the middle of your back.
Treatment: Plenty of rest, ice, and heat is usually a solid treatment option for a lower back injury that isn’t too serious. Depending on the pain level and the injury severity, however, there are other courses of treatment such as injections, physical therapy, and–in the most extreme of scenarios–surgery.
The wrist is a very commonly used joint in golf–every swing utilizes the wrist, even if it’s just a slight turn or twist. Add these movements all up, and it’s not surprising that golfers often suffer from wrist pain–usually in the form of a sprain or tendonitis.
How It Can Happen: Wrist tendonitis, similar to elbow tendonitis, often is the result of overuse or poor technique. Just the stress from swinging the club leads to small tears in your wrist tendons, which become inflamed and cause pain. Wrist sprains also happen quite frequently, also due to poor swing mechanics, but also when a golfer strikes a tree root or a rock during their swing.
Symptoms: Any symptoms of tendonitis–which can include tenderness, mild swelling, and pain (often a dull ache)–tend to occur at the point where a tendon attaches to the bone. A sprain will likely result in pain and very limited range of motion in the wrist. You probably won’t be able to move or rotate your wrist without quite a bit of pain.
Treatment: Self-care and physical therapy are almost always the best treatments for wrist pain. Anti-inflammatory, OTC pain medications are generally effective, as are some topical creams that include anti-inflammatory medication. Rest and ice also work well for wrist injuries that aren’t serious. Physical therapy and exercises can loosen and strengthen the joint to help prevent future injury.
Don’t Let Golf Injuries Keep You Off the Links
At Physical Therapy NOW in Irving, we see all types of sports-related injuries, including common golf injuries. Our experienced team knows how to get you back on your feet–and on the course–quickly and safely. After you’ve seen your doctor, call us at (214) 225-0291 to set up your initial appointment. We’ll examine your injury and work with you to create the perfect treatment plan.