Ask the Surgeon: Understanding and Preventing Golf Injuries

golf shoulder injuryInterview with Lawrence Miller, MD

What are the most common golf injuries?

The golf swing and stroke involves the coordinated movement of the whole body. Because golf is a full body sport, injuries occur in many different areas. The most common types of injuries occur in the hand, wrists, elbows, shoulders and low back.

What types of low back injuries occur while playing golf?

During the coordinated movement of the golf swing, the low back or lumbar region is subjected to several forces: lateral bending, shearing, compression, and rotation. We have seen that amateurs tend to swing harder, instead of more skillfully, to hit the ball farther. When they do this, it increases the stress on the normal forces and tends to lead to low back injuries. As you get older, you also have an increased opportunity for arthritis as your spine will become less flexible. Good body and swing mechanics is essential for prevention of low back injuries.

What is golfer’s elbow?

Golfer’s elbow, known as medial epicondylitis, is due to an overuse of the joint. Golfers usually have pain on the inside of the elbow when they push their hands together as well as tenderness on the medial epicondyle. This injury is usually due to an increased incidence of rounds played per week or even per day. As you age, your likelihood of increased incidence of exceeding your threshold are much higher. These incidences are usually due to overuse, strong grip on the clubs, and golfers who take large divots, putting an increased amount of stress on the elbow.

What are the causes of shoulder injuries in golf?

Shoulder injuries usually occur by overuse rather than any specific component of the swing itself. The leading shoulder is subject to an extreme range of motion which increases the risk of injury. We tend to see more shoulder muscle strains, bursitis, or rotator cuff injuries including tendonitis and tears.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of these shoulder injuries?

Some golfers will have pain when starting to lift arm to the side, sometimes with radiating pain down the arm to the elbow. There may be tenderness on the outer aspect of the shoulder joint during palpation.   Some people have severe pain just before and just after the arm is horizontal. Yet others will have pain when lying on the injured side at night, or weakness in the affected arm. With any of these symptoms, a patient should be evaluated by a physician.

How do I prevent golf injuries?

Like many injuries, prevention starts with proper warm up, stretching exercises that are specific to the sport of golf, strengthening exercises with an endurance base, and the utilization of good body mechanics and swing mechanics. Utilization of proper equipment is also a necessity.  Utilization of the five-minute warmup prior to playing is essential as well, with an emphasis on the wrists, shoulders, and back. Remember that proper posture plus proper technique will equal injury prevention and longer time playing your sport.

Dr. Lawrence Miller is Chairman and Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at Cooper University Health Care and Director of the Cooper Bone & Joint Institute. Learn more about Dr. Miller here.

To make an appointment with Dr. Miller or any of our orthopaedic specialists, please call 1.800.8.COOPER or fill out our online appointment request form.

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