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Golfing: A game of life or death?

Rob Stanborough, PT, DPT, MHSc, MTC, FAAOMPT

As if avid golfers needed one more reason to play, here it is: golfing can improve your health and yes, add years to your life. According to a Swedish study published in 2008, people who play golf regularly without using a cart have a 40% lower mortality rate than those of the same age and sex who don’t exercise. This could equate to adding as many as 5 years to your life, IF you play regularly and walk the course. Those with the lowest handicaps had the best rate, which probably means they play most often.

Playing often and playing well means playing injury-free. According to current research, golfers most often injure the low back, the non-dominant shoulder and the elbow. Professional golfers tend to experience overuse injuries due to constant practice and thousands of swings. Amateur golfers tend to acquire injuries related to an incorrect golf swing as well as overuse. Inadequate range of motion, strength and endurance are at the root of most injuries, particularly in the back and shoulder. Limited range of motion in one area of your body will result in compensation and overstress in a neighboring area. Back pain may be a result of poor ‘core’ or trunk control or tight hips. Forcing a follow-through when your hip rotation is limited can produce excessive strain in the low back.   

Golf is all about mechanics. Faulty mechanics in the hip may lead to hip or low back pain. Faulty shoulder mechanics will produce undue strain in specific tissue, which can lead to a shoulder impingement, tendonitis, shoulder instability, or even a rotator cuff tear. Inadequate stability of the non-dominant hip allows the hips to open up.  Inadequate strength in the non-dominant shoulder allows the club to get away and opens up the face of the club. In both cases, the effect is certain death: the dreaded slice. 

Speed is essential to producing power, but power is of no use without control. Balance, timing and endurance are also keys to playing a good round. No one enjoys shooting par, or less, on the front nine only to see everything fall apart on the backside due to muscle fatigue, dropping of the shoulders or poor backswing. Playing just one round of golf can require 200+ swings, including practice swings and hitting a bucket of balls at the range. 

 Yes, frequent play can decrease your handicap (sorry spouses) and according to the Swedish it can also add years to your life.  And if you didn’t know it before, you now know, adequate range of motion, speed, strength, and endurance are all just as important for safe and pain free play. Limitations or deficiencies in any of these areas can often be remedied without the use of expensive equipment or fancy gadgets.  Physical therapy can help locate impairments and provide simple do-it-yourself stretches and exercises.

If you and your game are healthy, keep saving your money. You may be playing 5 years beyond your current retirement plan. But if you and your game are struggling or hurting, don’t play through.  Seek help. The answer may be simpler than you think.

Rob Stanborough specializes in musculoskeletal conditions and lectures regularly on the subjects of muscular pain, soft tissue injuries, and treatment