As we get older, back and knee pain become all too familiar. Pain is particularly common among those who participate in sports, even those that are less physically demanding, like golf. Many, however, want to continue golfing despite their nagging injuries. Fortunately, there are techniques, equipment, and services available to help golfers answer the question, how to play golf with pain.
How to play golf with back pain
Back pain is common even among non-golfers. According to Golf Fitness Magazine, between 75 and 85 percent of Americans will deal with the condition at some point in their lives.
Of course, the numbers are even worse for golfers. A study from Titleist Performance Institute found that 28.1 percent of golfers complain of back pain after every round. TPI also concluded that more than 23 percent of professional golfers play with the condition. Some of the most common causes of lower back injuries among golfers include: muscle strains, ligament sprains, bulging or herniated discs, and even stress fractures.
This should come as no surprise. Taking huge swings with the golf club can put extra pressure on the back. Even something as simple as bending down to pick up the ball or kneeling down to check out their lie can put strain on the lumbar spine in particular.
While some back injuries go away in a few days, other more chronic conditions require regular management. Luckily, there are things you can do that may help ease your pain and allow you to continue playing golf.
Back pain prevention is key
The process starts before golfers even hit the course. The Hospital for Special Surgery has some especially helpful suggestions on how to play golf with pain. They recommend that golfers warm up and take some practice swings first to loosen up their backs and maintain flexibility.
Doctors Richard A. Staehler, MD and Peter F. Ullrich, Jr., MD, have also written about the importance of low-impact conditioning to keep golfers in shape while away from the course. Walking or stationary bike riding for 30-40 minutes a day, three times a week, can reduce chronic back pain and discomfort.
Once golfers begin their round, they can adjust their swing to limit the impact on their back. Golf teacher Sean Foley recommends bending the right knee and turning the left shoulder down during the backswing. This puts the pressure on the middle portion of the spine, rather than the lower back.
Foley additionally suggests that golfers thrust their pelvis as they hit the ball. He states that maintaining the same posture throughout the swing puts added strain on the lumbar spine.
During the downswing, it is also recommended to squat down to increase the stress on the thigh and butt muscles. Once again, the strategy is to keep as much pressure off the lower back as possible.
Golf teacher Hank Johnson recommends a simpler modification to the golf swing. He suggests rotating the hips and shoulder in unison. While golfers may not be able to hit the ball as far as they normally would with this technique, they will avoid causing additional pain to the back.
There are other adjustments golfers with back pain can make to their game besides changing their swing. The Hospital for Special Surgery recommends that these golfers not stand or swing their club on an uneven ground.
The Hospital additionally states that those with back problems should avoid climbing into sand traps. If they have to go into a bunker to hit their ball, they should utilize the lowest, most even section.
Back problems in particular can also lead to problems standing or bending. It may seem impossible to golf under these circumstances, but there are ways to deal with these injuries.
The Hospital for Special Surgery says that those with stenosis or other conditions that lead to problems walking or standing can try a more upright golf swing.
Meanwhile, those with disc issues or who have trouble sitting or bending can use a ball retrieving device to help place the ball on the tee or remove it from the hole. They can also widen their stance to avoid a bending motion during their swing.
Lighten your load
Golfers can also limit the strain on their back in between holes. They can ask a friend or caddy for help carrying the clubs between holes. Golfers can alternatively utilize a cart so they do not have to lug their clubs around the course.
For those who do opt to carry their own golf bag, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Christopher Finn recommends a backpack-style dual strap. This prevents the clubs from putting extra pressure on one side of the back or shoulder.
There are also adjustments that golfers can make to their club selection that limit the strain on their back. One such option is utilizing a long putter instead of a regular one.
A dual strapped back can help distribute the weight more evenly, causing less pressure on your back and shoulders.
How to play golf with knee pain
Knee pain is another common ailment among golfers, especially older golfers. One 2009 study in the European Journal of Sport Science found that up to 18 percent of all golf injuries involve the knee.
Knee pain has a variety of causes, from traumatic injuries like ACL tears to chronic conditions like chondromalacia. Meniscus tears, meanwhile, can result from a sudden trauma but can also develop over time.
Most of these degenerative knee conditions do not require surgery. But golfers must learn to manage them if they want to continue playing.
Adapting your golf game to deal with knee pain
Some of the techniques suggested for golfers with back injuries also apply to those with knee pain. Specifically, those suffering from chronic knee conditions can ride golf carts on the course and utilize longer clubs. They can also use a ball retriever to limit how often they bend their knees.
Golfers with knee pain can make other changes to their clubs, as well. The Hospital for Special Surgery specifically notes that shorter irons and lighter clubs can reduce the amount of pain on the knee.
Warm up and stretch
Before hitting the course, Dr. Ken Andersen of Andersen Chiropractic recommends stretching the lower body every day, particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. He specifically states that lunges, step-ups, and squats can help strengthen the knee.
If you can, leave the knee brace at home
Some golfers may be tempted to wear a knee brace while on the course. However, Erin Hurley Booker, who has a Master’s in physical therapy, believes that braces should not be worn for extended periods. She previously wrote that the body can become too reliant on the brace, which in turn can weaken a golfer’s natural support system.
Instead, Booker recommends that golfers who deal with knee problems wear special spikeless shoes. These can limit the amount of rotation on the knee. Customized orthotics from a doctor can also help reduce the stress on the knee, back, and hips.
Adjusting your golf swing to lessen knee pain
Like with back pain, knee pain often intensifies during the golf swing. But those with chronic knee ailments can adjust their swings accordingly.
The Hospital for Special Surgery recommends maintaining an upright stance when hitting the ball. The hospital additionally states that golfers should make sure their knees don’t bend beyond their toes during their stance. Instead, they should stick out their behind as if they are about to sit down.
Work with a professional golf instructor that can help you adjust your swing to minimize your pain.
Those with meniscus injuries in particular have specific precautions they can take on the golf course to reduce the risk of further knee pain. The Hospital for Special Surgery suggests rotating the front leg outwards during the swing to reduce the amount of torque on the knee.
Then, after a round of golf, doctors like Andersen recommend icing the knee to reduce any inflammation. However, the Hospital for Special Surgery notes that ice should be placed on a towel or cloth to avoid direct contact with the skin.
How to play golf through other chronic injuries
Back and knee pain are not the only injuries golfers go through. According to Golf Digest, other common ailments are elbow tendonitis, wrist tendonitis, ankle sprains, shoulder bursitis, and neck spasms.
Just as with back and knee injuries, these ailments can be alleviated through stretching or icing before each round. Other tactics like strength conditioning and adjusting the golf swing also allow golfers to play the sport they love despite these injuries.
How members of Blackstone Country Club deal with their pain
For those with a love for the game, Blackstone Country Club in Peoria, Arizona is an ideal option. The Golf Digest award-winning course, designed by Jim Engh, features 18 holes covering nearly 7,100 yards.
Members of the private club can cope with any nagging injuries with group classes at a state-of-the-art fitness center. Members can also enjoy daily personal training and various massage services.
Our members thus can strengthen and condition their bodies before heading out to play 18 holes. Massages can also help alleviate any lingering pain after each round. Members can also adjust their swing to help lessen their pain with help from our club pros. Blackstone Country Club goes the extra mile to make sure golfers continue to enjoy playing their favorite sport even as they deal with chronic pain conditions. Be sure to schedule a tour of our club and the award winning course today!