March 9, 2008

Truth about pain and injuries in golf…

A few weeks ago, I was trashing Michelle Wie’s wrist "injuries" and surprisingly received quite a few inquiries about sports injuries and how to avoid them. For the most part, injuries are part of sport. If you play, eventually you’re gonna get hurt to some degree or another, but there are ways to limit the odds of a major injury and a proper warm-up and proper technique are top of the list.

When people think of sports which have a high degree of injuries they think of contact sports such as American football, soccer, basketball and, of course ice hockey (ask a hockey player to smile and you’ll see what I mean).

For the record, crossing the street in HCM City or Hanoi would be considered "extreme sports" and I don’t even want to get into "X-Games" discussions right now.

Most people would not put golf high on their list of "injury-prone sports", but you’d be surprised. As a golf professional, I often have to help players avoid injuries through correction of their swing techniques.

Golf related injuries are more common than you think, but they tend to fall into the general categories of strains, sprains, fractures, and tendonitis, although freak accidents occur as well, like when Raymond Floyd threw his back out while brushing his teeth.

Tendonitis is one of the most common golf injuries and frequently affects areas such as the elbow, shoulder, and wrist. Tendons are specialized tissues designed to connect muscles to bones. The most common mechanism of tendon injury in golf (and in life) involves simply pulling too hard on the tendon. With repeated stress, tendons sustain microscopic tears and become inflamed.

Players often complain of "golfers elbow" (Medial Epicondylitis) which is commonly mistaken for "tennis elbow" (Lateral Epicondylitis). The difference is that "golfer’s elbow" affects the inside part of the elbow, whereas "tennis elbow" affects the outer part, but both are a form of tendonitis.

‘Tennis elbow’ is not restricted to tennis players – hyperextensions of the elbow, from whatever cause, can be classified as tennis elbow. Anyone who does a lot of work involving lifting at the elbow or repetitive movements at the wrist is susceptible to this condition.

Other possible injuries include muscle strain which is a partial tearing or stretching injury to a muscle. If muscle fibres are overstretched, especially when they are vigorously contracting, they can tear. A muscle strain usually results in immediate and severe pain, and the involved muscle will become tender to touch, swollen, black-and-blue (bruised), and painful to use.

A sprain is a stretching or tearing injury to a ligament (a specialized tissue that connects bone to bone and stabilizes joints). Sprain injuries are characterized by pain, swelling, tenderness, and limited joint motion. Wrist and ankle sprains are commonplace, if you step in a deep divot, you can sprain your ankle quite easily. You can also break your leg (fracture) by falling in a hole.

So, how to avoid hurting yourself?

As mentioned in the beginning of the column, the best way is to stretch properly before playing. Going to the driving range and hitting some warm-up shots not only helps reduce possible injury, but also can help lower your score.

Good technique is very important to both your health and your handicap, but most injuries come from over-doing it.

If you suffer frequent injury, it would be best to arrange a visit to your golf professional and / or your doctor. They will try to identify the source of the problem to see if it is from poor technique, muscular imbalance or both.

Building up some Tiger Woods-style muscles might seem like a good idea, but remember that muscular imbalance needs to be assessed first because simply strengthening or stretching without indentifying the weak areas could actually re-enforce the problem.

If you suffer a sprain, or suspect tendonitis, remember "RICE" (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) as your first line of treatment. If the pain is a bit too much, Advil (Ibuprofen) can reduce the inflammation and give you some relief.

If it doesn’t get better within a few days, see your doctor.

Golf can be a game for a lifetime, but you have to maintain some common sense and remember that it is a physical activity and injuries can happen.

Back to Issues