Golf is a centuries-old sporting tradition. Countless generations have hit the greens worldwide in a quest to make par or celebrate an elusive hole-in-one.
In addition to being a game of skill, golf offers a lot of health benefits – especially if you ditch the golf cart and commit to walking the 18 holes. Studies have shown that
golf can help you live longer and improve your heart health.
With plenty of fresh air and beautiful outdoor settings, golf even provides some great benefits for your mental health and overall wellbeing as you age.
Golf is also a sport practically anyone can enjoy. Tiger Woods famously showed an aptitude for golf as a child, but even a senior who has never picked up a putter before can take up the game. And there are plenty of great
public golf courses in local parks and
state parks that feature lessons and pro shops.
Just like any sport, golfers know that proper form makes all the difference. It not only improves your play, but it's also important for preventing injuries.
Shoulder injuries in golf
Golf in general isn't a high-impact sport, but it does involve a lot of repetitive motion that can add wear on your joints, tendons and muscles over time – especially the
shoulder. Any golfer who has struck a deep divot also knows firsthand that slamming an iron or driver into the ground has the potential to send some serious shockwaves up your arm.
The pros make swinging a club look easy and effortless, but
Paul Favorito, MD, Division Chief, Shoulder & Upper Extremity Services at The Christ Hospital, points out that a golf swing is a very complex movement that can affect both the lead and trail shoulder.
“The combination of repetitive motion followed by turf impact may lead to different problems in the shoulders and upper extremities," Dr. Favorito says. It's no wonder that shoulder injuries made the top five in the
Golf Channel's top 10 most common golf injuries.
Dr. Favorito says that the most common shoulder problems he sees in golfers include
rotator cuff tendinitis and
worsening of arthritis. Both can be caused by general wear and tear, or from an injury.
“As golfers age, they often lose some range of motion. If that occurs in the spine, rotation may be lost and the turn in the golf swing is restricted. If so, increased forces can be transmitted to the shoulder joint, which can cause pain as well."
Seeking relief from shoulder pain
“Most shoulder injuries from golf can be managed conservatively with rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and activity modification," Dr. Favorito says. “Understanding the cause of the symptoms is important, and those may be related to the swing itself. If so, a golfer may even want to have their swing evaluated by a professional to see if a change will improve symptoms."
If pain, weakness, or limited range of motion in the shoulder doesn't improve or starts interfering with your golf swing, Dr. Favorito says it's a good idea to get it checked out by a doctor.
Some patients may see some improvements with cortisone injections and physical therapy to strengthen the shoulder muscles.
More serious cases may require shoulder surgery, including minimally invasive arthroscopy to make repairs – all the way up to a shoulder replacement.
Dr. Favorito says surgery will generally keep you off the golf course for a minimum of three to four months. Then after physical therapy, Dr. Favorito says patients are gradually introduced to “backwards golf."
“The patient will start with putting and chipping, followed by shots with wedges and shorter clubs," Dr. Favorito says. “They gradually progress to longer clubs and longer swings."
Five ways to protect your joints before you golf
Prevention is the best strategy to avoid a golf injury. Here are five ways you can project your joints and improve your golf game.
Warm up before your golf game
Most people will jump right into a game of golf without warming up. Cold muscles and tendons mean increased joint pain and decreased flexibility. Warming up will allow you a greater range of motion and less pain on the golf course.
Stretch after you warm up
Tight muscles will decrease your range of motion and can cause increased inflammation. After you do a light warmup, stretch out your muscles. This should help increase your range of motion and prevent further joint pain.
Correct your posture to protect joints
Correct posture will protect joints, especially those in the neck, back, hips and knees. Poor alignment means extra stress on joints that are trying to keep you in line. Correct posture should help you avoid pain that can be distracting to your golf game.
To correct your posture, imagine a string is pulling you up from the top of your head. Tuck your pelvis in so that your stomach muscles aren't relaxed and overextended, and pull your shoulder blades back.
Relax your golf swing
Good golfers have consistent, easy swings and not necessarily fast swings. Swinging the club too hard and fast may result in stressing your joints and hurting your game. Work on a confident, strong swing that won't suddenly jolt your joints and muscles and gets you consistent yardage.
Consider Pilates and yoga
Pilates and yoga are low impact workouts that will increase your flexibility and the stability around your joints. The
Arthritis Foundation found that just two yoga classes decreased pain and swelling for those with rheumatoid arthritis. By preventing pain before you get to the golf course, you can concentrate on your game instead of those aching joints.
Is shoulder pain an albatross to your golf game? You can schedule an appointment with a shoulder specialist online or call us at 513-557-4900.