How to avoid common golf injuries

Golf injuries are prevalent because most amateurs are playing infrequently and the sport is highly repetitive in nature. We will discuss the common locations and causes of injuries to amateur golfers, as well as some strategies to reduce injury risk.

Low Back Pain in golfers

Back pain has the greatest impact on amateur golfers. It compromises swing mechanics and results in more rounds lost than any other injury. Sedentary lifestyle results in hip stiffness and thoracic spine stiffness, which in turn increase the stress to the lumbar spine (low back). Golfers often attempt to replicate tour-level swings and compress structures through the downswing and follow-through. 

There are many causes of low back pain. In younger adults and teens, muscle strains and disc bulges are the most common cause. In men over the age of 50, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine due to arthritis) is the cause. In all golfers, adequate hip extension and rotation are essential to avoiding back pain. Hip flexor and hamstring stretches with regularity are critical. Also, working with a therapy professional to increase hip rotation will reduce injury risk while improving power (more to come on this).

Repetitive Stress Injuries to the shoulder and arms

In a round of golf, most amateurs score between 90 and 100. Let us assume 36-40 of these strokes are short chips and putts. That leaves 50-64 full swings in a round, roughly 14 with a driver or wood. With that volume of swings, the amateur golfer is at risk for injury if they are working out or practicing on the range less than 3x/week.

Repetitive stress injuries at the shoulder include: subacromial impingement, bursitis, rotator cuff tendonitis, and nerve compression. Avoiding these types of injuries requires thoracic spine mobility, scapular (shoulder blade) stability, and rotator cuff strength. Stretching the pectoral muscles and lats are also key.

Amateur golfers often ground the club - this is a part of learning the game. However, by reducing clubhead speed and focusing on accuracy, some of the elbow and wrist injuries can be avoided. Core stabilization strategies not only reduce low back pain, but also result in a better position when striking the ball, resulting in less elbow and wrist injuries.

Exercises to avoid golfing with pain

  1. Hip flexor stretches
  2. Hamstring stretches
  3. Pelvic tilts in golf stance
  4. Single-leg hip rotation (opening and closing)
  5. Planks with rotation
  6. Single-arm rows
  7. Lat stretches
  8. Thoracic rotation on tennis ball

Dr. Dave Gerbarg

Dr. Dave Gerbarg is the President and Physical Therapist at One Nine Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy in Solana Beach. He specializes in sports medicine for teenage and adolescent athletes.