You would be forgiven for considering golf to be a low injury-risk physical activity, after all it is a non impact-sport. However injuries to the golf player, whether a low or high handicapper, are quite common.
I wrote an extensive article last year about common golf injuries, the need for good flexibility and control while discussing the challenges of the modern golf swing. You can read the full post here.
We are in the middle of summer, a time when even the fair-weather golfers are out enjoying 18 holes be it on one of Ireland’s 300 courses or a foreign one. I thought this a good time to share a quick reminder about the risk, cause and prevention tips for one of the most common golfing injuries called ‘Golfer’s Elbow’.
What is Golfer's Elbow?
There is some debate as to whether golfer’s elbow or low-back pain is the most common golfing injury. Since both injuries can be caused by the repetitive motion of the golf swing and both requiring good technique to avoid injury I would suggest the level of risk for either injury to be fairly consistent.
The condition known as golfer’s elbow is when the tendons attaching your forearm muscles to the inner elbow bone become initially inflamed and then may start to undergo a process of degeneration if not diagnosed early and treated correctly. During the early inflammatory phase there might be swelling, pain and tenderness on the inside of the elbow near where the tendons attach. During the later stages of the injury the swelling may give way to further tenderness and thickening of the tendons along with pain on gripping and swinging the golf club.
Golfer's elbow, medically referred to as medial epicondylalgia, is similar to the more commonly known tennis elbow, both forms of elbow tendinosis.
What causes Golfer's Elbow?
As is the case for most golfing injuries the main cause of golfer’s elbow is overuse. Contributing to this cause would be insufficient physical conditioning of the forearm muscles and not enough rest in between rounds. Neck and shoulder issues may also increase the risk of developing golfers elbow.
Another common way to cause upper limb injuries during golf is by doing something known as ‘hitting the ball fat’ - where the golf club face strikes the ground or another object either intentionally or not. Striking through longer grass or indeed hitting an object other than the ball will typically apply additional ‘shock’ forces to the arm of the golfer, potentially causing injury. It is usually the trailing arm that sustains the injury.
How to prevent Golfer's Elbow
The steps to take would be:
- Get enough rest between rounds (avoid playing everyday for prolonged periods)
- Strengthen your forearm muscles
- Ensure adequate flexibility of the arm, shoulder and neck including the nerve structures
- Work on your grip technique and avoid holding the club too tightly
As in any form of sport it is important to warm up your body and stretch your muscles gently before starting your round. Dynamic stretching is best so avoid holding static stretches just before your round. Maybe the most appropriate way for a golfer to warm up is to spend 10 minutes at the driving range gently hitting a number of balls.
Simple exercises to strengthen your forearm muscles:
These exercises may be appropriate if you are NOT currently experiencing pain and may help prevent injury
- 5 minutes of squeezing a specific hand-grip device, or a simple tennis ball will work well
- Using a lightweight dumbbell perform 10 reps of wrist curls for each arm
- Slowly and with control lower the weight to the end of your fingers - then curl the weight back into your palm and up your wrist
- Grip the dumbbell in your hands, palms facing downwards and extend your arms in front of you, gently raise and lower the weights using your wrist. You should not move your arms to ensure your forearm muscles are doing the work
Physiotherapy treatment options
If you are suffering from golfers elbow then I recommend you visit your Chartered Physiotherapist who will help speed up your recovery and get you back to your game as quickly as possible. Ideally these sorts of injuries are treated early to ensure a quicker recovery.
- Treatment options may include
- Therapeutic exercise
- Manual therapy
- Dry Needling and other Medical Acupuncture techniques
- Laser Therapy
Related reading: Golf Flexibility, The Golf Swing & Common Injuries