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Preventing Golf Injuries

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Let's be honest. Most golfers are more motivated to improve their games than to prevent injuries. Fortunately, regardless of your motivation, the good news is that the two go together like Tiger Woods and major championships.

Let's be honest. Most golfers are more motivated to improve their games than to prevent injuries. Fortunately, regardless of your motivation, the good news is that the two go together like Tiger Woods and major championships. By following some basic guidelines and developing a game plan, you can not only decrease your risk of injury, but you can also improve your game and lower that handicap.

Research indicates that the lower the handicap, the greater the risk of injury because of the demands that the golf swing puts on the body. This even applies to touring professional players. On average, professionals suffer two injuries a year and lose approximately five weeks of playing time. A leading cause of golf injuries is from overuse. But poor technique, a lack of conditioning and aging also contribute heavily to injury.

Unlike touring professional players, who often suffer from overuse injuries, most recreational golfers don't practise four hours a day or take hundreds of swings each day at the driving range. However, during an average 18-hole round, most recreational golfers take more than 100 swings, including practise swings, as well as walk six to eight kilometres and bend more than 30 to 40 times. You don't have to be a health specialist to see the demands that a leisurely round of golf has on the body, especially the low back.

Golfers typically suffer from low back injuries. Research has found that professional golfers have more low back injuries than all other professional athletes combined. Recreational golfers also suffer back injuries, but these are often a result of poor technique, improper warm-up and lack of conditioning. In addition to low back injuries, male golfers typically suffer from shoulder and elbow injuries, while wrist injuries are common with females. To avoid golf-related injuries, consult your local teaching professional to ensure your technique and mechanics are in tip-top shape. By using the correct mechanics, you'll reduce your risk of injury and improve your game. Also, ask if your pro has any suggestions about good warm-up or cool-down routines.

Warming Up

Before playing, always incorporate a good 10- to 20-minute warm-up that includes movements to increase body temperature, golf-related stretching exercises and some practise.

Going for a short walk or bike ride is a good way to increase muscle temperature and ensure a better stretch. Warm muscles stretch more efficiently and are less susceptible to injury. When stretching, focus on working the hips, back, neck, quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, shoulders and forearms. Move slowly to the point of mild discomfort, but not pain, and hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

Next, take some practice swings, focusing on a smooth swing with proper mechanics. Build up to two clubs to increase resistance. Then move to the practice area and hit some balls. This will prepare both your mind and body for the game.

Sports-Specific Conditioning

After a lay-off from the game, such as over the winter, begin slowly and follow a conditioning plan. Golf legend Gary Player has (for decades) been an advocate of strength training. Long before weight training was the norm on the PGA tour, Player was hitting the weights and seeing results.

Pay special attention to the trunk muscles. By strengthening abdominal and lower back muscles, you will reduce your risk of injury and enhance your performance. Ideally, strengthening exercises should be performed year-round to maximize results, but if you do not have time for resistance training, focus on an activity such as walking or running, and keep up with those stretches. Remember: The average round of golf requires six to eight kilometres of walking. Build up your endurance to combat fatigue and reduce risk of injury.

To prepare for and improve your actual swing, begin by swinging a club in your back yard for five to 10 minutes a day. You want to swing at approximately 50 to 75 per cent of maximum output, but swing easily and maintain proper mechanics. After a few days you may want to put a weight at the end of your club to increase resistance. You can do this by taping a golf ball to the end of your club.

Again, swing smoothly and focus on your mechanics. After you have done this three or four times, you can move to the driving range. Begin hitting a small bucket of balls with your upper irons, but not on consecutive days. Also do some stretching between swings if you start to feel a little tight.

Next, move into hitting your lower irons and graduate to a medium-size bucket of balls. After you've done this, you're ready to hit some of your woods and your driver. When you have managed to get to the range for some practise, you are ready to hit the course. However, begin by playing nine holes a few times before playing a full 18. Remember to warm up and stretch before and after you play your body will thank you for it.

The wonderful thing about golf is that you can play it for a lifetime if you keep your body in shape, your technique in check and your game plan at par. We all know that the game is continually progressing, so keep up with the times or, better yet, keep up with your playing partners and get yourself ready for your next game.

Golf Stats

  • An estimated 4.8 million Canadians play golf, according to the Canadian Golf Association.

  • In the US, the number of golfers grew from 19.9 million in 1986 to 26.4 million in 1998 (National Golf Foundation).

  • According to Timothy M. Hosea, MD and clinical assistant professor at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey, the injury rate for amateur golfers ranges from 59 percent for the high handicapper to 67.5 percent for those with a single-digit handicap. People over age 50 also have a higher injury rate.

  • The most common injuries are the low back, elbows and shoulders, which are largely due to overuse, poor swing mechanics and conditioning (sportmed.org).

Golfers often suffer from herniated discs and back spasms. Intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers, but they tend to dry and tear with age. So when you arch your back to take that swing, your disc is at its weakest and can tear or split. To help prevent injury, stay in balance by keeping your shoulders and chest centred over your pelvis when you swing.

Source: Texas Back Institute, texasback.com

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