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Southern Orthopaedic Sports Medicine
Where the science of medicine meets the art of living.

If You Stretch Yourself, Golf Doesn’t Have To Be A Pain

By Evan F. Ekman, M.D.

Golf is a tremendously popular sport, especially in South Carolina. Part of the reason it is such a popular pastime in that there are no age limitations.

Unfortunately, the satisfaction one gets from the game is often compromised by a nagging pain, often in the elbow, shoulder or back.

We all know golfers who have had to give up the game because of these problems. As an orthopaedic sports medicine physician, I know perhaps more than my fair share who have had an operation because of an injury related to golf. The good news is that these are, more than not, correctable problems, and the golfer can usually return.

On this subject, I’m commonly asked two questions: How do I prevent a golf-related injury? How do I fix my aching (insert aliment here)?

I’ll answer the first question. We can address specific injuries in future columns. Keep in mind the notion that it is much easier to prevent injury than to cure it.

Three concepts, none of which are new to you, will be presented: flexibility, warm-up, and cardiovascular conditioning.

There are two parts of what will become your flexibility routine: what you do everyday when you wake up to develop flexibility, and what you do as part of your pre-golf routine. A golfer cannot wait until the first tee to develop flexibility. I suggest that you wake up five minutes earlier every day and do your stretching.

Before we talk about stretches specific to golf, here are some general guidelines.

Gently stretch a muscle through the specified motion and hold it at the end of the range for 10 to 20 seconds. Use constant pressure and don’t “bounce.”

Perform each stretch two times and do it on both sides of your body. To avoid and prevent injury, stretching should be slow, deliberate and painless process.

Here are four stretches that will help you avoid injury in golf:

  • Posterior shoulder stretch. Stand upright, reach across your body and grasp the back of your elbow with the opposite hand. Pull the elbow across your chest as far as you can.
  • Trunk rotation. Sit on a chair. Look over your shoulder. Rotate your upper body around and grab the back of the chair. Use your arms to pull your trunk around. Remember, go in both directions.
  • Sitting knee to opposite shoulder. Sit on the edge of your bed or a bench. Place your right foot on the bench just to the left of your left knee. Using your left hand, pull your right knee toward your left shoulder. These instructions might sound like a game of Twister, but this is a very effective stretch for the low back and hips. Repeat on the other side.
  • Hamstring stretch. From a standing position, lean forward as if to touch your toes. Allow your knees to bend, then gradually straighten your knees, creating a stretching sensation in the back of legs.

As mentioned, these stretches will best serve you done everyday. They should also be part of your pre-game routine done after the “warm-up.”

When you get to the golf course, begin with a warm-up. The goal is to raise your body temperature. This increase in body temperature increases the blood flow to muscles and joints, promoting flexibility and lubrication of the joints. An increase in the blood flow specific muscles and tendons also decreases the likelihood of overuse-related damage to the tissue.

Increasing the body temperature allows nerve impulses to travel faster, leading to a better performance. You can warm up effectively for golf by walking briskly for several minutes, jogging or even doing jumping jacks in the parking lot.

Finally, let’s take a minute to discuss cardiovascular fitness. Some might argue that you don’t need to be in the greatest shape to play golf. But anyone who has carried a bag of 14 clubs for 18 holes would argue otherwise. Cardiovascular conditioning will lead to greater muscle endurance and less fatigue, improving stroke consistency and swing biomechanics.

The end result: fewer injuries, a better score and more satisfaction from the game. Cardiovascular exercise recommendations vary, but as a conservative guideline, we should all attempt 20 minutes of cardiovascular activity three times a week. If you have not been doing this in the past, I recommend you consult your physician before starting a program.

These guidelines should help you play pain-free golf for as long as possible.

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