Low back injuries are more common in recreational golfers than in the pros.
There are two basic causes - poor swing mechanics and a lack of flexibility. Poor swing mechanics result in a greater load on the spine because of increased muscle activity - when the golfer tries to swing harder instead of more skillfully, these loads are increased. A lack of flexibility in the mid torso and hips can result in a low back injury as the lumbar spine tries to compensate for the lack of flexibility above and below it.
Shoulder injuries are usually of the overuse variety, and usually occur in the lead shoulder where there are extremes of range of motion under stress. Electromyographic studies have shown that shoulder muscles and scapular muscles must be well coordinated during the golf swing. If fatigue, inflexibility, or a lack of training are present (as is often the case in recreational golfers) injury can occur.
The elbow is another area of concern. Medial epicondylitis (golfer's elbow) occurs on the trailing arm, at the inside of the elbow. Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) occurs on the lead arm at the outside of the elbow. Both conditions are usually repetitive stress injuries which typically occur as a result of poor mechanics.
Wrist and hand injuries are more common among professional golfers than recreational ones, due to excessive motion of the wrist during the swing. Tendon disorders include De Quervains Disease and Trigger Finger. Golfer's Wrist is actually a fracture of part of the hamate bone, called the "hook" of the hamate. This injury can occur when the club head strikes a heavy or immovable object like a rock or tree root.
What can you do to avoid or at least minimize your chances of injury? First, get yourself on a regular, year round fitness program, including aerobic activity, strength training and flexibility training. Start NOW - don't wait until the season starts. Join a gym, talk to a trainer or a physical therapist to get you going with your program. And don't forget to talk to your doctor before beginning any training program. Second, stick with it. Even a few days a week will help. Third, don't forget to properly warm up before you exercise or play golf.
So there you have it - a wide range of possible injuries, or some very simple steps which can make your game better, more enjoyable, and less painful.
Mark Epler is a physical therapist at SVMC Outpatient Rehabilitation. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. To learn more about the SVMC Outpatient Rehabilitation, visit svhealthcare.org.