The 6 most common golf injuries: causes, symptoms, solutions

Only about 40 percent of amateur golfers are injured while playing the sport. Research on golf-related injuries shows most of these injuries involve the back, elbows, shoulders, wrists/hands, knees or hips.

All golfers, regardless of the level at which they play, should know what causes the most common injuries, what their symptoms are, and when they should seek the help of a physician.

PREVALENCE OF INJURY FOR RECREATIONAL GOLFERS
  Lower back
36%
  Elbows
32%
  Hands and wrists
21%
  Shoulders, knees, and other injuries
11%
  *Harvard Medical School Study (2004)

1. BACK PAIN

Causes

  • The motion of a golf swing (along with the hunched-over putting stance many players adopt) places great strain on vertebrae in the lower (lumbar) part of the back.
  • Repetitive, one-sided twisting of the spine (30-50 times in an average round of golf) contributes to stress on the lumbar spine.
  • Bending over to pick up your golf bag can strain muscles over time.
  • Arthritis in the area of worn vertebrae can contribute to back pain.

Symptoms

  • Pain in back
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain or weakness in the legs

Solutions

  • The discomfort you feel is probably the result of a muscle or ligament strain and will heal itself with rest and subsequent strength training.
  • Bent over or crouched putting stances exert a great deal of pressure on your back. Try using a longer putter.
  • Review your swing with a professional to ensure that faulty swing mechanics are not contributing to your injury.
  • Use a buggy (or caddy) to transport your clubs.
  • Cut down on your swing. The "caddie swing" puts less pressure on your back and allows more control over the ball.
  • Rotate your lead hip as you follow through on your swing to avoid compression of the lumbar vertebrae.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent to take some of the load off of your spine.

If back pain persists, see your physician to diagnose the cause and get proper treatment.

2. GOLFER'S ELBOW

Golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) is characterized by inflammation, soreness or pain on the inside of the upper arm near the elbow. Tennis elbow, (lateral epicondylitis) occurs on the outside of the upper arm, and is also commonly experienced by golfers. Both conditions are more often caused by overuse than by a single episode.

Causes

  • Gripping your clubs incorrectly can cause damage to muscles and tendons.
  • Repetitive stress or sudden force applied to the elbow or wrist.

Symptoms

  • Pain or tenderness on the inner side of the forearm (may appear suddenly or over time)
  • Stiffness in the elbow
  • Pain when making a fist
  • Weakness in hands and/or wrists

Solutions

  • Rest - put your game on hold until the pain is gone.
  • Ice the area for 15 minutes 4 times a day for several days.
  • Reduce the stress on your forearm and elbow by changing your swing.
  • Cortisone injections (for chronic cases).
  • Over the counter pain relievers.

If elbow pain persists, see your physician to diagnose the cause and get proper treatment.

3. SHOULDER INJURIES

Rotator cuff injuries are the most common shoulder ailment affecting golfers. The golf swing causes chronic wear and tear injuries to the muscles holding the shoulder inside its socket. Muscle and tendon tears heal and create scar tissue which can make movement increasingly painful.

Causes

  • Rotator cuff tendinitis (inflammation)
  • Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis)
  • Bursitis (inflammation of the bursa sacs that protect the shoulder)
  • Arthritis (causing swelling and stiffness)
  • Shoulder instability (dislocation)

Symptoms

  • Pain in the shoulder or upper arm pain when the arm is lifted up and away from the body
  • Pain in the front of the shoulder which extends down and into the elbow and forearm

Solutions

  • Rest, icing and pain medication
  • Physical therapy, including stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Arthroscopic surgery

4. WRIST AND HAND INJURIES

Causes

As the head of your club strikes the ball (or the ground!), the wrist and hand absorb the brunt of the impact. Repetitive impacts can lead to injury.

The metacarpal and finger bones in the hand are connected to the wrist by an intricate web of ligaments, tendons and tissue. Over time, repetitive strain and improper wrist motion can cause fractures, sprains, and ruptured tendons that eventually cause chronic pain and decreased mobility.

Types of wrist and hand injuries

  • Tendinitis (swelling, pain and stiffness) of the wrist
  • Hand pain where your hand contacts the grip of your club could be a sign that you have fractured your hamate bone. Fractures of the hamate bone are difficult to see on x-ray and usually need to be corrected surgically.
  • Painful joint dislocation occurring when ligaments have ruptured
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (tingling and numbness of the fingers and clumsiness of movement)
  • DeQuervain's Tendinitis (pain in the wrist at the base of the thumb)

Solutions

  • Give adequate rest to painful, swollen or inflamed areas.
  • Squeeze a tennis ball to strengthen hand, wrists, forearms and shoulder muscles.
  • Use light grip pressure. Slow the backswing, cut excess wrist motion, and avoid a steep downswing that could strike the ground
  • Place the top hand so that the hamate bone isn't rubbing against the end of the grip.
  • Use golf clubs designed to absorb vibration.
For amateur golfers, the wrist and hands are the third most likely source of injury - behind the back and elbow. The wrist is injured more than the hand by a 3:1 ratio - Golfers Digest

5. KNEE INJURIES

Causes

If you are recovering from a knee injury or recuperating from knee surgery, plan carefully your return to the fairways. Walking or standing for long periods of time can exacerbate knee problems. The golf swing itself exerts great pressure on the knees and should be avoided until any previous injuries have healed completely.

Symptoms

  • Generalized knee pain
  • Clicking in the knee
  • Swelling of the knee which worsens with increased movement

Solutions

  • Rest, icing, elevation and pain medication
  • Strengthening, stretching and physical therapy
  • Wear golf shoes with short cleats. (Long cleats anchor your feet while you swing and could strain your knees.)
  • Wear knee braces and bandages
  • Cortisone injections
  • Arthroscopic surgery
  • Total joint replacement surgery

6. HIP INJURIES

Golf rarely causes a hip injury, but playing may cause pain from a hip problem that already exists. If you have a hip condition you may need to adjust the way you play.

Causes

  • Muscle pulls can result in discomfort or a limited range of motion.
  • Rotation of the hip and forceful transfer of energy though the body places a great deal of strain on the hips and surrounding muscles.
  • Golfers may tear their labram (the cartilage that lines the hip socket) if the club hits the ground during the golf swing. Diagnosis and correction of such injuries generally requires an MRI and/or arthroscopic surgery.

Symptoms

  • Pain in the hip or groin area
  • In the case of a labral tear, you may hear a popping sound as if something is caught in the hip joint

Solutions

  • Rest, ice, compression and elevation
  • Arthroscopic surgery