Common golf injuries and how to avoid them

We have endured a long and grueling winter, but with April comes better weather, outside activities and GOLF! And what a wonderful activity it is. Playing allows you to be outside enjoying nature and fresh air.  The structure of golf creates the perfect opportunity for endurance conditioning if you walk the holes (which I encourage) and the golf swing engages the core and involves rotational movements which we don’t do enough of in everyday life, making the game itself conducive to spine and core health and mobility. 

Golf also has its share of drawbacks, however.  The nature of the golf swing creates an imbalance in many of the muscles involved in the repetitive, one-sided movement. Golfers with poor posture or excessive weight or limited mobility through the torso, where the main movement occurs, are susceptible to injuries.

Before you get out on the course, now is the time to identify if you are susceptible to the three most common golf injuries and take steps to avoid them this golfing season.

Injury #1 Low back pain

The most common injury in golfers occurs in the lower back. One of the reasons is the repetitive nature of the swing which is often combined with limited flexibility through the torso.  The pain that results can be caused by a number of structures including discs, ligaments, muscles and facet joints; however, disc injuries are by far the most common. A herniated (also known as “slipped”) disc is when the gel between the vertebras either protrudes or actually ruptures.  This results in pressure on the nerves that are located between the discs and that pressure is the cause of the pain. Sciatica is a common syndrome which is the result of pressure on the sciatic nerve usually caused by a herniated or slipped disc.There are several things a golfer can do to avoid back pain. First, make sure you don’t start the season like a “weekend warrior” and do too much too soon.  It is better to start with one game per week, working your way up to playing five times a week the first week of nice weather (not commonly practiced!). Second, take five minutes to do torso rotational and lateral (side) bending warm-up exercises to ensure that when you pick up the club your body is ready.  And you need to warm up before you take warm-up swings, which are commonly performed by golfers as a warm up.  You need to WARM UP for your warm up!Most importantly, a core strengthening and stabilizing exercise routine will go far to help prevent back pain.  One exercise that can be done daily is holding a medicine ball or a dumbbell and standing with your back to a wall and carefully twisting side to side and touching the ball to the wall on each side. A golfer usually has one side significantly more flexible than the other. Take the time to try to carefully work on increasing the range on the tighter side during this exercise.  Perform 15-25 twists on each side for 2-3 sets using a 3-10 pound medicine ball.  This can be done daily, but three times a week is a good target.

Injury #2 Golfer’s elbow

Due to the forceful gripping of the golf club, the tendons of the forearms as they insert into the humorous bone (the long bone of your upper arm as it joins the lower arm bones at the elbow) become inflamed and cause elbow pain.  The muscles involved are in the forearm but the ends (the tendons) connect beyond the elbow (most commonly involved are the ones on the inside of the elbow).Icing the elbow and the surrounding area will help manage the pain.  To prevent it from happening, it is important to keep these tendons strong enough that the gripping isn’t too much on these muscles. You can do this by using hand grips that are designed to provide resistance when you squeeze them (found in sporting goods stores).  Perform 6-10 reps at a high resistance for 3-5 sets on each hand can help avoid golfer’s elbow.  Stretches involving the movement you would do if you put your hand up to say “halt” are necessary to avoid this injury.  Add extra pressure by doing this movement against a wall or standing above your desk with your hands on the desk and then lean forward until you feel the deeper stretch on the palm side of the wrist.  Hold for 20 seconds and do 2-3 repetitions for each wrist/forearm.  This can be done daily.

Injury #3 Golfer’s shoulder
Shoulder pain can occur in golfers due to damage to the rotator cuff muscles. These muscles (subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor) are small muscles situated around the shoulder joint, which can become damaged during the repeated stresses of the golf swing. Reduced ability of these muscles to keep the bones of the shoulder in proper alignment is a common cause of shoulder pain. Poor posture, specifically a forward slumping of the upper back, and the one-sided nature of the sport creates the perfect storm for shoulder pain. Using exercise bands can improve shoulder strength, stability and flexibility, all of which are needed for shoulder health.  Hold a band in your hands with arms outstretched in front of your chest and then stretch the band by opening your arms wide to the sides while lifting your chest and pulling your shoulder blades together. This is an excellent exercise for stabilizing and strengthening the rotator cuff muscles.  Perform this exercise for 10-15 reps, 3 sets, 2-3 times per week. 
Golf is a wonderful sport for endurance, enjoyment and getting out in nature.  With a few exercises, a golfer can avoid the common injuries so that he or she can enjoy a long and satisfying golf season! 

Judy Torel is a USAT certified coach, has a Master’s degree as a psychotherapist/life coach, is a certified metabolic nutrition coach, 200 RYT yoga instructor, and ACSM certified fitness specialist. She is an ultra-distance runner and 6 time Ironman competitor. She can be reached at and her office is located at 116 Everett Road, Albany.


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