There is no getting away from the fact that injury is a part of sport. Whenever you put extreme force through the body over a long period of time something is bound to occur. The more our understanding of the human body develops together with the understanding of what impact particular sports have, the better our chance at taking the correct course of action. Still though pride and determination cloud correct judgement – 39% of players took painkillers during the 2010 football World Cup! (source: SB Nation).
As golfer’s we face a very individual battle, there is no team to let down, just a sense of pride in deciding to play through an injury or not. Until recently the perception was that golf was a very east sport – just take a swing every few minutes and wander about on perfect manicured grass for the rest of the time!
Sports science has enabled us to comprehend the scale of the huge force placed on the body by a golf swing. Players practice harder and swing harder than ever before. Swing speeds regularly reach 120mph on tour now. This creates huge forces on the body – the ground forces (as a player squats and extends his legs through impact) reach a peak much higher than the players body weight.
This is multiplied with the torque that is created in rotating different parts of the body and different times in the most dynamic way possible. Even an average quality video will show a very different looking spine at impact due to the compression and force placed upon the vertebrae (see Mcilroy below).
Finally, to deliver this force to the ball and achieve peak club speed, the wrists maintain a huge amount of lag for a whip like effect! History tells us that wrist and spinal injuries are the most common and from the previous detail you can understand why.
DEFINE YOUR INJURY
If you suffer an injury it is always best to fully heal before returning to the game. But sometimes an impending tournament or frustration can affect your decision making. Famously Tiger won the US Open in 2008 with a fractured leg – he wanted to play so badly. Others may delay surgery or a period of rest for a minor injory until the end of the season. This obviously carries a physical risk – you must define your problem and understand what continuing to play will do. Is it just pain and swelling or is it creating permanent damage? These are vital questions that pride must not prevent from being asked.
There are two common types of lower back strain (Source: Spine health.com)
- A muscle strain happens when the muscle is over-stretched or torn, resulting in damage to the muscle fibers (also called a pulled muscle).
- A lumbar sprain happens when ligaments are stretched too far or torn. Ligaments are very tough, fibrous connecting tissues that connect bones together.
When the muscles or ligaments in the low back are strained or torn, the area around the muscles will usually become inflamed. The inflammation leads to back spasm, and it is the back spasm that can cause both severe lower back pain and difficulty moving.
Common wrist injuries in golf are usually related to trauma or tendinitis (Source: MAYO clinic). Trauma (symptoms of pain and swelling) can occur from hitting a rock or tree root, hitting from extremely thick rough or taking an extremely large divot. Tendinitis can occur from long periods of poor technique and the resultant strain. It may appear after intensive periods of practice and create inflammation.
PREVENT YOUR INJURY
TECHNIQUE: Sometimes injury is just bad luck but it is best to take preventative measures where you can. An avoidable injury might affect your income but it will definitely affect your satisfaction. Be careful when trying to change or improve your swing. Trying to do something your body cannot cope with is dangerous. A teacher may recommend an aggressive hip rotation through impact but the torque this generates could hurt your back.
“The torque this creates between the pelvis and the lumbar spine pulls the ligaments, tendons and muscles in that area. Also, the shearing effect can wear away the discs between the vertebrae in the lumbar spine, leading to disc disease; that’s the real career-ender” (source: Dr James Andrews – Golf Digest).
Make a swing that your body can cope with. The correct swing will feel powerful yet lacking in stress or tension, be aware of your bodies limits. Andrews also stresses the importance of the correct grip “sometimes hitting the ground flattens the wrist angle, stressing the extensor tendons on the top of the wrist and causing tendinitis”. He suggests a stronger grip to combat this.
Renowned Australian physiotherapist Michael Dalgleish suggests taking wrist extension and flexion tests to determine your wrists capabilities as a first step. He highlights that “many of the golf swings that appear to be arm dominate may be in the “at risk” group. Many female amateurs with excessive mobility and poor trunk strength may also fit into this “at risk” category”. Key also is that “many of the structures that are damaged in wrist injuries, are not seen with a plain x-ray”, and require an MRI.
PRACTICE: It is key after a long winter or period with little golf that you ease yourself back into your regular routine. Over enthusiasm has been the cause of many injuries. Be mindful of the surface that you practice off – some mats can lead to serious problems if they are too hard or thin, especially if you usually take a healthy divot on the course.
LONG TERM IMPLICATIONS
In golf, we can compromise our distance and speed and still be competitive. This is a common coping mechanism for those playing with injury as it creates less force and pressure on the body. Be wary of playing for a long time with an injury – the body will automatically alter technique because of its new limitations or to avoid pain.
This adaptation may create extra stress somewhere else in the body (as an example a runners foot injury may create hip problems) or create a very poor habit in technique terms – both can be hard to recover from. David Duval springs to mind as a golfers whose potential was severely diminished after battling with and playing through injury – the subtle difference in technique costing him his confidence.
Pain management is different in each athlete, it is key to understand your injury. Try and ignore niggles but recognise the implication of more serious injury. One career is worth much more than one tournament.
As with all physical aspects of golf seek the help of a qualified golf specific physiotherapist to guide your prevention, injury or rehab.