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Understanding Golf Injuries in Professional and Amateur Athletes

March 16, 2017

About 25 million people in the U.S. play golf, making it one of the country’s most popular sports.

Golf draws both amateurs and professionals, but similar to many other sports these athletes can face injuries as a result poor mechanics or constant play. Florida is one of the meccas for golf in the U.S., so here at Orlando Health we’ve treated many athletes at all levels of the sport.

You’ve probably heard of golfer’s elbow — a common injury to the inner part of the elbow — but there are several other injuries golfers may experience. Here’s what you should know.

Injuries in Amateurs & Professional Golfers

Most golf injuries are the result of overuse, which occurs when players perform an action repeatedly over a long period of time. In fact, overuse causes around 44 percent of all reported golf injuries in youth golfers.

In the past, youth athletes played a multitude of different sports, but the increased desire to perform at a high level and achieve success in one sport has led to increased injury risk as the result of overuse. Single sport specialization can put a significant amount of stress on the same muscle and the same joints, and long-term overuse can ultimately lead to injury.

Different sports have a different exposure risk for injuries. In fact, golf has a unique set of injuries. Though professional and amateur golfers both can get hurt during play, these two groups may experience different injuries because of the way they play the sport.

Professional golfers are more likely to have back injuries, followed by injuries to the wrist or shoulder. Amateur golfers are more likely to experience elbow injuries, followed by back and shoulder injuries. Professional golfers are more likely to have improved swing mechanics; however, overuse can still result in injury. Amateur golfers may have poorer swing mechanics and “swing with their arms” too much, which may increase the risk for upper extremity injuries. In addition, amateur golfers may often carry their own heavy bags, which may result in increased risk of back pain in this population.

Treatment for Golf Injuries

Treating golf injuries, whether in the pros or amateur golf, depends on the nature of the injury. First, we have to identify the root cause of the problem. Back pain, for example, is a common ailment — even outside the sport. About 75-78 percent of Americans will experience back pain in their lifetime, but for golfers this may be higher because there’s a lot of rotational stress on the swing, which puts terrible pressure on the spine and back. Four to five hours in a bent over stance and doing a repeated motion also puts stress on the lower back, so we look at all these correctable factors first before we devise a finalized treatment plan. We also evaluate a player’s mechanics, which can affect their injury risk as well as their scoring average. Many amateur players carry big bags, which isn’t an issue for professional golfers who have caddies. However, this activity can put a lot of stress on the muscles and joints, including the back, and may lead to injury in this group of players.

Whether a player is a professional or amateur, typically the first and best treatment is conservative and may include physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Rest is also critical for an injured golfer. In fact, golfers that keep trying to play through pain and don’t give their body enough adequate rest might pre-expose themselves to overuse and further injury.

When treating professional and amateur golfers, our primary goal is to treat people without surgery, if possible, because this can often result in the quickest and most effective return to play. Alternative therapies also may work for certain people; therefore, we are always trying to provide individualized care for each patient. But sometimes — whether it’s the injury itself, the fact that the person will be prone to long-term damage if it isn’t addressed or because over time non-surgical management isn’t effective  — surgery may become the best option. No matter the treatment of choice, our aim is to get athletes and weekend warriors back to their highest level of play,

With Orlando Health’s expertise in golf medicine, we’ve developed relationships with the PGA, LPGA and Symetra tours in addition to over 25 years of experience serving as the medical provider of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which will take place from March 13-19 this year. With all these partnerships, Orlando Health strives to give athletes the highest quality care. It takes a team to accomplish this goal, including orthopedic sports medicine physicians, primary sports medicine physicians, physical therapists, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, fitness coaches and nutritionists. With this foundation of quality sports medicine providers, we’re able to provide a cohesive level of care to athletes and help them get back to playing the sport they love as soon as possible, so they can keep competing at the highest level for years to come.

Have questions about sports injuries?

The expert staff at Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group are trained in orthopedic traumatology as well as orthopedic surgery, including sports medicine, arthroscopic surgery, joint replacement and hip resurfacing. This practice provides a full range of affordable, quality healthcare services for the community in which we serve. 

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