By: Dale J. Buchberger, PT, DC, CSCS, DACBSP
As spring approaches more and more people will be turning their attention to the golf courses. Hopefully many of these people have been preparing for the new season by doing some regular exercise. If you have not started your preseason exercise routine it is not too late to get started. Fortunately in Central New York the golf season comes slowly. The 3 most common causes of golf injuries are excessive play, poor swing mechanics, and poor physical conditioning.
Overuse injuries occur when we force deconditioned muscles and joints to do repeated high force movements such as swinging a golf club. Performed too frequently, injuries can result. The body can withstand many forces placed on it, but there’s a limit to how much it can take before it reacts with injury. High repetitions of the golf swing during play and practice can cause trauma to muscles and connective tissue, leading to inflammation and pain. When key areas are kept strong and flexible the body can withstand these forces better with less risk of injury.
Poor golf swing mechanics can also lead to injury. Repeated collisions with the ground, besides creating divots, will place increased stress on the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Back injuries can occur if you bend too far forward during the golf swing. If you have back trouble that is made worse with your golf swing, you should have your swing analyzed by a certified golf instructor to pick up any faults that can be corrected. To help prevent back injuries, you also should use good body mechanics when lifting your golf bag and teeing the ball.
Unconditioned muscles are weak and inflexible, causing them to be more susceptible to injury. The back is especially vulnerable to the increased pressure placed on it during the golf swing (rotating while leaning forward). If lower back and abdominal muscles aren’t strong or flexible enough, the high repetitions of the golf swing eventually will cause pain. If you are limited in your golf swing by a health related problem such as having had a joint replacement in either your knee or hip being on a strengthening program is even more important. Keeping your legs strong will take strain off your back.
Here are the easiest and most productive exercises for any golfer to perform. While it would be easy to fill your day with exercises these target specific areas of weakness found in most amateur and recreational golfers. Bridging strengthens the back and hips. Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Push your feet into the floor lifting your bottom off the floor. Hold for 3 seconds and lower slowly. Start with 2 sets of 10-12 per day and increase to 2 sets of 25-30 per day. Seated piriformis stretch increases flexibility in the hips and is performed seated with both feet on the ground. Cross one leg over the other. Grasp your knee with both hands and pull your knee to your chest. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat one time up to 5 times per day. The Prone “T” exercise strengthens the shoulders and upper back and is performed lying face down on the floor with a folded towel under your forehead. Your arms are out to the side with the palms facing the floor so you are in the shape of a “T”. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift your hands off the floor until they are parallel to the floor. Hold for 3 seconds and lower slowly. Repeat sets of 10-12 to start and increase to 2 sets of 25-30 per day. The cross body shoulder stretch increases flexibility of the shoulder and can be performed by crossing one arm across the chest. Grasp the elbow with the other hand and pull your arm into your chest while depressing the stretched shoulder. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat one time but 4 times per day.
By following a golf-specific strength and flexibility program, you will lower the risk of injury and most likely, improve your game. While there are many gadgets and gimmicks promoted to improve the golf swing the easiest and most cost effective way is to strengthen inherent physical weaknesses. A program doesn’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time. Injury prevention starts with taking a few minutes to perform a few daily exercises. The degree of improvement in your game is directly proportional to the effort you put into preparing. Showing up at the golf course every day won’t necessarily improve your game if you show up each day with the same weaknesses. Remember if you have 5 hours to play 18 holes of golf you need to find 15 minutes to warm up before your play.