Golf is known as a lifetime sport that people of all ages can enjoy. “Golf gets you out into nature and offers physical activity and social interaction,” says Martin Boehm, PT, a Titleist Performance Institute level three medical and fitness provider who spent 12 years as a physical therapist on the PGA Tour. “It’s a great way to challenge yourself mentally and also physically, especially if you walk the course.”
Even though golf is a leisurely, low-impact activity, you can still get injured. Golf injuries usually result from improper mechanics in your swing. Poor form is often due to a lack of mobility or strength in key areas of your body.
Understanding common golf injuries and how to prevent them will help you make the most of your time on the links.
“The golf swing is a complex total-body movement,” says Boehm. “The whole body has to coil from ankles to neck and then unwind to strike the ball. Most golf injuries happen repetitively over time from taking many swings with incorrect form.”
The most common injuries golfers face are sprains and strains which can lead to inflammation in joints, muscles, or connective tissue in parts of the body required for that swing.
“Lower back problems are very prevalent among golfers,” says Boehm. Lower back injuries usually happen because your hips and mid-back don’t have enough mobility or flexibility. When those areas can’t move as they should during your swing, your lower back compensates and gets strained.
Common lower back injuries from golf include:
Disk injury (herniated disk): Tearing or bulging of a disk, a cushion of tissue between the vertebrae in your spine
Sprain or strain: Stretching or tearing of a ligament, or an injury to a muscle in your back
Your shoulders are complex joints that play a key role in golf swing mechanics. Shoulder injuries from golf usually take the form of:
Bursitis: Inflammation and swelling in the sac (bursa) that cushions your shoulder joint
Rotator cuff tendinitis or pinched rotator cuff: Inflammation, rubbing, or pinching of the tendons in your shoulder
Sprain or strain: Stretching or tearing of your shoulder ligaments, or an injury to your shoulder muscle
It’s important that you don’t ignore shoulder pain. “A pinched rotator cuff can eventually tear,” says Boehm. “And a torn rotator cuff is most often repaired with surgery.”
Elbows play a critical part in your swing as you bend them on the backswing and straighten them on the follow-through.
Typical elbow injuries in golf happen because of overuse that puts a strain on the joint. They include:
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis): Inflammation of elbow tendons that causes pain in the outer part of your elbow
Most of the power in your golf swing comes from movement and rotation in your hips. Lack of flexibility in the hips can not only cause hip problems but lower back issues, too.
Common types of hip injuries and pain that golfers experience include:
Trochanteric bursitis: Inflammation and swelling in the bursa on the outer part of the hip joint
Labral tissue problems: Pinching, straining, or tearing of the cartilage that holds the hip joint together
Some golf injuries happen less often, but they are also usually the result of repetitive overuse with incorrect form.
Boehm says less common golf injuries may happen to your:
Hand and wrist
Treatment for golf injuries depends on where you’re injured and how bad the injury is. Many injuries improve with rest and treatment of the pain and inflammation. But it’s important to address what caused the injury in the first place to avoid future flare-ups. An exercise program and coaching on correct swing mechanics can make all the difference.
“Most people who are hurting from a golf injury don’t know the root cause of the pain or how to fix it,” says Boehm. “A movement assessment or movement analysis with a physical therapist can reveal where your problem areas are.”
After a movement analysis, the therapist can create an exercise program designed just for you. The exercises target areas where you need more mobility, flexibility, and stability so you can maintain correct form in your swing.
An exercise routine can help prevent future injuries. “But there’s really no one-size-fits-all exercise program for golfers because each golfer is unique,” says Boehm. “That’s why getting a golf-specific movement analysis is so important.”
Regardless of your personal strengths and weaknesses, there are some steps every golfer can take to prevent injuries:
Warming up properly before every round of golf can prevent some injuries. “Instead of arriving at the course right before your tee time, get there early,” advises Boehm. “Take the time to stretch and then hit a few balls on the driving range to get your joints and muscles ready to play.”
Staying active between golf rounds can keep your joints mobile and your muscles strong. “A sedentary lifestyle will make your muscles and joints tighter and more prone to injuries,” says Boehm. “It’s beneficial to have a mix of physical activities in your life.”
“It’s really important for golfers to keep mobility in their hips, back, ankles, neck, and shoulders,” says Boehm. “If you don’t have enough mobility in those areas, your body overcompensates in other areas, which can lead to injury.”
Stability is another key to preventing injuries. When your muscles are strong, your joints, posture, and swing are more stable. “Core strength is especially important here,” notes Boehm.
You can improve and maintain mobility and stability through stretching, strengthening, and flexibility exercises.