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Muscle tone & flexibility will keep you swinging

August 1, 2000


IN THE PAST 30 YEARS, FEW SPORTS have continued to grow like golf. Nearly 30 million play the game regularly, despite crowded links and long waits for tee times. Along with the game's growth comes an ever-increasing number of injuries.

Golf is associated with a high incidence of biomechanical injuries because of the unnatural movement of a golf swing. It is probably the only sport in which your nondominant side is the power side - a right-handed golfer derives most of his or her power from the left side. Therefore, muscles that are not used as often are subjected to greater demands.

The most common - and most preventable - injuries that I see in my office from golf are muscle pulls. I see a lot of trunk, back and occasional calf pulls as a result of violent contractions while overstretching on the back swing.

If you pull a muscle while playing golf, you will need to rest for a few days and ice the sore muscle 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off, then begin a stretching program to relengthen the muscle. Once you can stretch the damaged muscle as painlessly as you can the matching muscle on the opposite side of your body, you am ready to play again.

I see a few golfers who injure their rotator cuff muscles or the tendons of their shoulders. This can result from accidentally digging a club into the ground or overextending your shoulders during a follow-through. I would recommend treatment with a physical therapist to improve your flexibility and to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles as well as your scapula and shoulder blade stabilizing muscles.

Another common injury is golfer's elbow. This is a form of tendinitus affecting the tendons on either the outer or inner side of the elbow. This injury can result from using a club that is too stiff or too flexible as well as placing excessive demand on the wrist as it stops the club at the end of your swing. The remedy may include new club shafts and lessons with your pro to correct your back swing. Treatment involves a physical therapy program that includes ultrasound or electro-stimulation. I also would recommend a weightlifting program involving wrist and reverse curls to strengthen the forearm muscles. A support band below your elbow along with ice and antiinflammatories can keep you in the game. Injuries in the nondominant wrist are treated in a similar way to elbow injuries.

I often treat golfers who have shin splints or knee pain from walking long distances up and down hills. If you are a victim, a bone specialist should be consulted.

To improve your game, you must remember that strength in golf is just as important as accuracy.

Strengthening your legs is critical. This is where your power comes from, as in most sports. You also need to strengthen your lower back, as well as abdominal muscles. This is important because a golf club can put stress on your back equal to eight times your body weight.

Finally, keep in mind that you should warm up your muscles before stretching because a warm muscle will stretch itself out during practice swings. Remember to stretch after your round to help ease muscle soreness.

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