Injuries occur in all athletic events quite frequently, certain sports more so than others. Golf is no different than any other sport. The severity of injuries in golf usually are not as severe as in other sports. The scenario of a 300 lb. defensive lineman slamming into the side of your knee tearing every possible ligament structure in the knee will never happen in the sport of golf. An interesting visual if you combined the sports of football and golf onto the same playing field, but inappropriate for this paper.
There are two types of injuries classified by professionals in the fields of athletic training and sports medicine. The two types of injuries are: 1) acute and 2) chronic. The above example of the football player is classified as an acute injury. An acute injury can be defined as the trauma in the body occurring immediately after the injury. Refer to the football player example above for a reminder. (For us older golfers, remember Joe Theisman of the Redskins and Lawrence Taylor’s leg breaking tackle? Acute injury.) Relating an acute injury to golf is a little more difficult. Probably the easiest, and maybe most the common, acute injury in golf, occurs while swinging and you hit a rock or something that creates an injury to your wrist. That would be the best example in the sport of golf of an acute injury. Overall, acute injuries tend to be rare in golf because contact by the body with external forces is rare.
My back is always killing me!
The second type of injury, chronic, is much more prevalent when it comes to the sport of golf. A chronic injury is one that occurs over time. Think of it as a “wear and tear” injury. These are usually the result of the body breaking down over time. A great sports example outside of golf is when you hear about a baseball pitcher having tendonitis in the elbow. Tendonitis is an inflammation of the elbow resulting from the stresses placed upon it from throwing. Over time the elbow becomes tired and eventually injured from the number of pitches thrown. If you are a runner and, after a certain amount of time, your knees begin to hurt, this is usually a chronic injury. When we talk about golf, the majority of injuries are chronic. They tend to be a direct result of the golf swing (just like the pitcher’s elbow). Usually the chronic injuries in golf show up in the lower back. If chronic injuries are caught soon enough in the cycle, rest and proper treatment (i.e. massage, chiropractic care) will heal them. But if you wait too long the body is going to “break,” and then you will not be playing any golf for a long time. This is where the unfortunate situation of surgery and other invasive procedures are considered.
So a couple of questions we must ask when it comes to chronic injuries in relation to golf are: how do they occur, and how do we prevent them? Chronic injuries occur as a result of the body becoming fatigued and eventually “breaking down.” The muscles, ligaments, and tendons of your body are required to perform the activity of swinging a golf club. Over time this activity causes fatigue within your body. As the body continues to fatigue, or get tired, the body gets sore. This is the first indicator of a developing chronic injury. If you continue with the activity you’re participating in, with soreness in the body, eventually your body will break down. This “break down” will be in the form of maybe a pulled muscle, muscle stiffness, tightness, or some other type of inflammation. All of the above examples are a result of structures in your body breaking down from fatigue and overuse. Even if just on one swing you feel “your back go out,” nine out of ten times it is a chronic injury, and that last swing was the “piece of straw that broke the camel’s back.”
How to Prevent Chronic Injuries in Golf
We all know that the golf swing is a repetitive movement, meaning the body is performing the same activity over and over again. This creates fatigue in the body over time. And if over time our body can’t support the number of swings we are taking, it is eventually going to break down. There are three variables we have when it comes to the prevention of chronic injuries in golf. Number one is workloads. Workloads can be defined as the number of swings that the body takes with a club over a given period of time. That time frame can be seven days or an entire tour season. Number two is efficiency of your mechanics. When we say “efficiency of mechanics” we are talking about how biomechanically correct your individual swing is. “Why is this important?” you ask. Let me tell you. I think most of us would agree that the tour players have very “efficient” swings; their swings are smooth and look almost effortless. A swing like this asks less out of the body to perform and requires less effort from the muscles; hence fatiguing levels in the body are lower. Some amateur swings look like they take a lot of work to perform, and in reality they do! These types of swings ask a lot more out of the body and fatigue it more quickly. The final variable is what we term “golf strength.” Golf strength is a measure of the required levels of flexibility, strength, endurance, balance, and power to successfully support the mechanics of the swing. Large amounts of golf strength allow the body to support an efficient swing. Low levels of golf strength do not provide the support needed for the swing.
Workloads, Swing Mechanics, and Golf Strength
All three of these variables work together to determine if you are a candidate for a chronic golf injury. Golf strength is essentially the foundation upon which your swing is built. This variable indicates how many times you can swing a golf club with your current mechanics before you come up injured. If you have high levels of golf strength then regardless of how efficient of a swing you have, you will be able to play for quite awhile before you get sore. The flip side can also be said. If you have low levels of golf strength, regardless of your swing mechanics, you will come up sore in a shorter amount of time.
Secondly, let us look at swing mechanics. If you are a player that has a very efficient swing that places very little stress on the body, you will undoubtedly be able to play many rounds before your body starts screaming at you. Again, if you have poor mechanics, it is going to take its toll on your body and your game.
Finally, we have workloads (i.e. number of swings). The number of swings one makes must match up with levels of golf strength and swing mechanics. The golf swing is a “stressor” of the body and breaks it down over time. If you have an efficient swing, each swing does less “damage” to the body. If you have a poor swing, the body has to work harder, thus fatiguing it more quickly. In addition to this is golf strength. If you have high levels of golf strength, you can swing the club more (i.e. workloads) before you get tired. Low levels of golf strength present the situation of the body’s fatiguing more quickly. “So what is the magic formula?” you ask. My first suggestion is twofold: 1) work on your swing to improve the efficiency of it, and 2) increase your levels of golf strength in order to support your swing. For the time being, match up your swing and golf strength levels to determine what workload levels you can get out of your body.