For all the positive benefits of golf—physical fitness, stress relief, camaraderie—the sport can be dangerous. Stray balls, lightning strikes, and out-of-control golf carts pose very real risks. But when it comes to the dangers associated with the activity itself, there are a number of injuries that are very common among golfers. In fact, a few years ago, GolfSupport reported golf is more dangerous than rugby. Not only are golf injuries fairly common, but the severity of those injuries can be significant. The shoulders and back are particularly at risk of severe injury in this sport that relies on core-body force and torque.
The Notorious Rotator Cuff
A rotator cuff is a group of four different muscles that surround the shoulder joint. When the rotator cuff is damaged, it can be extremely painful and sometimes requires surgery. This muscle group is responsible for providing strength and stability for your shoulder. When you raise or rotate your arm, you are using your rotator cuff. This is also the group of muscles that gives your golf swing power. If your swing is improperly aligned, or you apply too much power to the joint, you can strain or tear your rotator cuff.
It is possible to simply strain your rotator cuff. While a strain is on the less severe end of the spectrum, rotator cuff strains can be quite painful. In many cases, strains can heal with home treatment and rest. Some golfers with rotator cuff strains are even able to continue practicing their sport under a doctor’s supervision.
On the other end of the severity spectrum is a complete tear. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, “When one or more of the rotator cuff tendons is torn, the tendon no longer fully attaches to the head of the humerus.” In this instance, your doctor will provide you with surgical and non-surgical options. Every patient’s case is different, but most orthopedic doctors will try to avoid surgery if they can. There have been successful cases of complete tears that healed properly without surgery.
How do you know if you have a rotator cuff injury? Shoulder pain and weakness are the primary symptoms, but it is also possible to suffer a rotator cuff injury without experiencing any pain. Typically, regardless of pain, if you experience shoulder and/or arm weakness, you should see your doctor. Rotator cuff injuries that do not heal properly can result in permanent damage. When you visit your doctor, you will likely undergo lab tests or imaging to confirm your diagnosis.
Golfers Are All Too Familiar with Lower Back Pain
Tiger Woods may have five green jackets, but he didn’t achieve his remarkable success unscathed. Back injuries, especially to the lower back, are common among golfers. From muscle strains to displaced vertebrae, repeated golf swings can be tough on the back. And Woods is no exception. He endured four back surgeries over the course of two years to correct a degenerative disk.
Back injuries seem to be on the rise in the sport. Golf.com recently published the article, Why are back pain and spinal injuries plaguing the game? The answer is complicated. In it, the cause for a rise in golf-related back injuries is theorized, “Not only does the golf swing call for the spine to rotate, it forces it to do so at a tilt, over and over again, at excessive speed—not what the doctor ordered.” The same article documents that this apparent trend is disproportionately affecting younger players.
Back injuries are so prevalent in golf that statisticians have studied the economic impact associated with the condition. “The direct annual costs of back pain, as related to physician services, medical devices, medications, hospital services, and diagnostic tests, for example, are estimated to be $91 billion,” cites the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. The library also states that back pain typically develops over time. This is in contrast to the common misperception that back pain is primarily caused by a specific injury. Additionally, the type of golf swing most common now exerts more pressure on the spine than previous techniques, which may factor as a cause for the rise in golf-related back injuries.
Other Golf Risks
The risks associated with playing golf are not limited to the back or shoulders. Other common injuries include:
Mitigate Risk. Improve Your Game. And Your Health.
So, what does this all mean? Should you quit the game you love so much? Absolutely not (unless your doctor tells you to). Tiger Woods rehabilitated after four surgeries and he certainly didn’t quit. But no doubt, he learned how to play the game safer and in a fashion that suited his unique medical and health needs. If you’re experiencing pain during or after a game of golf, see your doctor. And if you’re not, be aware of the possible injuries and work with a trainer so that you can best mitigate your risks. Not only will you be a smarter golfer, but your game will likely improve. When your game builds off your body mechanics, it’s more powerful, more effective and safer. For more information about golf-related injuries or training, contact a MOSH shoulder, back or sports medicine specialist today.