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Over the past few decades, some sports have become popular and then faded (such as racquetball), and others have peaked and leveled off (such as tennis and running). Golf is one of the few recreational games that has continued to grow. Now that the baby boomers have reached their forties, golf is having its own boom, particularly among women. Nearly 30 million golfers now play the game regularly, despite the high costs, crowded links, long wait times, and even longer playing times. Along with the game's growth has come an increase in the number of golf-related injuries.
A golfer's score ultimately is determined by his or her athletic talent, by the amount of time he or she devotes to practicing and playing, and by the level of his or her physical fitness. Unfortunately, most golfers overlook the fitness component and try to get by on natural talent and regular play. However, the more rounds you play without working on your conditioning, the greater are your chances of injury.
Golf is associated with a high incidence of biomechanical injuries because of the unnatural movements of the golf swing. It is the only sport in which the nondominant side is the power side, that is, a right-handed golfer derives most of her power from the left side of the body. So muscles that usually aren't used as much are subjected to great force. The golf swing also leads to muscle pulls and lower back problems.
Muscle pulls are not that common in golf and are quite preventable. Muscles in the trunk, back, and occasionally the calf can pull due to sudden, violent contractions from overstretching on the backswing.
If you pull a muscle while playing golf, you will need to rest for a few days and ice the sore muscle20 minutes on, 20 minutes offas often as possible during that time. Then you can begin a stretching program to relengthen the muscle. Once you can stretch the injured muscle painlessly as far as you can the muscle on the opposite side of the body, you are ready to play again.
Duffers with poor body mechanics during the swing place considerably more stress on their backs than do professional golfers. To avoid serious back trouble, I suggest you take a series of lessons to improve your golf swing.
Any time the arm is swung above a line parallel parallel to the ground, the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder may become stretched. It's usually a right-handed golfer's left shoulder that hurts because the left arm is moving with more force than the right arm during the follow-through.
The treatment is to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles to tighten the shoulder joint (see Chapter 6). Most likely, a physical therapist will need to prescribe a set of specific exercises to rehabilitate these muscles.
A golfer who digs the club into hard ground can tear the rotator cuff muscles. The injury is marked by severe pain and loss of motion in the shoulder. The approach to treatment is to rehabilitate and restrengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Occasionally these muscles will need to be operated on.
A golfer's nondominant arm can develop a form of tennis elbow. The pain appears on the outside of the left elbow of a right-handed golfer and is due to the excessive demand placed on the extended left wrist as it pulls the club through the swing. The tendon becomes inflamed where it attaches to the outside of the elbow, causing tendinitis.
The correct treatment is a physical therapy program, which may include ultrasound treatments and electrotherapy, and a weight program to strengthen the extensor muscles of the wrist, as outlined in Chapter 8. Once these muscles are strong enough to handle the force of swinging the club, the pain will disappear and will not recur.
You must combine this weight program with a stretching and flexibility program for the wrist and forearm, because a great deal of the pain and disability are due to spasm in the muscles and tendon.
The nondominant wrist can also develop ligament damage. A right-handed golfer will feel pain in the back of the left wrist. The treatment is to rest the wrist for one week and to do strengthening exercises, such as the Wrist Curl, which is found in Chapter 8.
This injury must be distinguished from a ganglion, which is a benign cyst that commonly grows on the back of the wrist. The tendon sheath in the wrist can become irritated by the violent motion of a golf swing, causing a ganglion.
A golfer with a sore leg may have shin splints or runner's knee from walking long distances up and down hills. A commercial arch support or a customized shoe insert can help correct a poor foot strike. Using a golf cart instead of walking also eases the pain. However, the only general exercise you get from golf is walking the course, and a cart eliminates even that little amount of aerobic conditioning. Walking also offers the benefit of keeping your back muscles warm and supple.
How to Improve Your Game
Strength is just as important in golf as accuracy. Not only will it enable you to hit the ball farther (Lawrence Taylor claims to have hit a drive 400 yards), but it will cut down the number of injuries.
Strengthening the legs is most important. The power of the golf swing comes from the legs. Taller players therefore have a mechanical advantage over smaller players. You can improve your leg strength by doing the Toe Raise with or without weights to strengthen the calf muscles, as described in Chapter 12, and the Leg Extension and Leg Curl, which are part of the strengthtraining program in Chapter 1, to improve your quadriceps and hamstring muscles.
Many golfers have bad backs. Swinging a club can put stress on your back equal to eight times your body weight. Also, the jolting contact of the club against the ground can send tremors up your spine. And bouncing around bent over the wheel of a golf cart puts a lot of unnecessary stress on your back muscles. To strengthen your lower back, do back extension exercises, including the Reverse Sit-up, as well as abdominal muscle exercises, as illustrated in Chapter 7, to help take the pressure off the back muscles.
If you use your large trunk muscles when hitting the ball, you can generate much more power than you can with the smaller muscles of the arms and shoulders. Following are three exercises you can do to strengthen your trunk muscles.
To generate power as you pull the club through the swing, you need strong shoulders. The most important exercise is the Lateral Lift, described in Chapter 6. Start with a small weight (10 pounds for men, 5 pounds for women) and gradually build up to more.
The forearms and wrists are particularly important in golf because they are used to give the ball added impetus. They also control the path of the swing and the accuracy of the shot. The best exercises to strengthen these muscles are the Wrist Curl, Reverse Wrist Curl, and Unbalanced Wrist Rotation, described in Chapter 8.
In general, a golfer should be interested not in bulking up but in doing a high number of repetitions with lighter weights. Do the preceding exercises three times a week, particularly in the off-season.
Weight machines in the gym may be easier to work with, but they limit the direction in which force can be applied to your muscles. Free weights allow you to vary the path of motion of the weight and thus more easily adjust to strength differences between the two sides of your body.
If you do nothing else, at least do the trunk rotation and the forearm and wrist exercises. These exercises done year-round are the best way to stay limber during the off-season.
A pre-round stretching program is the best way to avoid a traumatic muscle pull. Most golfers, if they do stretch, tend to overstretch their muscles before a round. There is a right way and a wrong way to stretch before hitting a golf ball. The way most golfers stretch their backs is more destructive than helpful. Typically, a golfer puts a club behind the back and rotates back and forth. You would be better off not stretching at all. Every time you rotate during this ballistic stretch, receptors fire and shorten the muscle, which is the opposite of what you want.
The following group of exercises is designed specifically to help golfers stretch correctly and thereby improve their performance on the course.
To further loosen your trunk muscles, do the Side Stretch detailed in Chapter 1.
To stretch your calf muscles, do the Heel Drop described in Chapter 12.
To stretch your buttock muscles, do the standing Hurdler Stretch in Chapter 7.
To stretch your hamstring muscles, do a standing Hamstring Stretch (see following illustration).
To stretch your shoulder muscles, follow the shoulder stretching program outlined in Chapter 16.
If you arrive at the course just before your tee time, you should warm up your muscles rather than stretch them. A warm, loose muscle will stretch itself out during practice swings. You are better off running in place or doing jumping jacks than trying to stretch cold muscles. Of course, the best thing is to get to the course in time to both warm up and stretch your muscles.
Unfortunately, most golfers don't warm up at all. People who don't stretch or work out with weights are notorious for not loosening up before going out for a round of golf. Most professional golfers, on the other hand, take at least 45 minutes to warm up and stretch before they hit the course.