Phoenix is a veritable golf Mecca. By last count we had 247 courses. If you didn’t need to worry about making a living, playing one new course every weekend would keep you occupied for nearly five years.
This time of year, tee times start with the sun just peeking over the horizon – it’s 5:30 a.m. and already 90 degrees! The sunrise nicely silhouettes the saguaro cactuses, which remind you where the grass stops and the desert begins. The rough really is rough here, complete with reptiles.
But even in Phoenix the most common golf injuries do not involve rattlesnakes or golf balls (directly).
Golf is perhaps more than anything else a game of inscribing consistent fine arcs in the air by both club and ball flight. Rotation is the order of the day. Specifically, rotation with both feet firmly planted in the grass.
In a sense, you wind yourself up and uncoil. In a well lubricated machine this happens without a hitch. Unfortunately, muscle, joint and bone don’t have lubrication ports.
The low back is the most frequent body part to complain in regards to golf, rebelling against the otherwise smooth ballet of motion.
The lower back is one of the most complex structures in the body. Ligaments are the straps and cables that hold the bones in place. It’s important to know that ligaments will physically shorten if not stretched out regularly. That means joints lose motion.
The tightest joint ends up being the weak link/the Achilles heel. The good news is the vast majority of golf-related low back injuries resolve in a few weeks. They seldom involve ruptured discs, which come from (axillary) loading the spine.
Some regular back stretching is a good preventative measure. If your schedule permits, some yoga would also keep you out of trouble, and probably help your game. Williams Flexion exercises are well proven and take only five minutes every morning.
The shoulder is the next most common golf injury. Shoulders are very unique. Mechanically they are almost universal joints that possess an extreme range of motion because the joint is not a classic ball and socket, but rather a ball held against a slight depression.
There are no socket walls to limit motion in the shoulder. The joint stability is entirely based on ligamentous support. Yes, those same ligaments will shorten without regular stretching.
If you did an experiment with your healthy shoulder, and didn’t raise your arm for a month, you would not be able to raise it without six months of physical therapy. Tight ligaments can get torn during a golf swing. Unlike the low back injuries, shoulder injuries due to golf are often surgical in extent.
To avoid shoulder injuries, the prevention is regular exercise and stretching.
The elbow is the next most common golf injury. Strangely enough, golf can give you a serious case of tennis elbow.
The muscles in the back of your forearm, the ones that extend your wrist, attach at a knob called the lateral epicondyle. Microscopic tears can develop at the attachment of the muscle to bone.
Treatment can be as simple as taking a few weeks off and avoiding palm down lifting. However, if pain persists, some therapy or a shot of cortisone usually takes care of it. Surgery is rarely required.
Speaking of time off, approximately 50 percent of the golfers on the PGA tour have missed play for a month or more due to golf-related injuries.
It is perhaps less obvious that physical preparation is needed for golf, as opposed to football. Yet don’t be fooled – golf has very real injuries that can ruin your day, or summer.
Take care and good luck trying to hit that little white ball straight!
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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