Swing into Spring
Returning to golf after you’ve had an injury or surgery demands patience and a plan. Here’s how to get back in the swing.
- Consciously progress. Go to a range to pitch and putt, and be aware of how your body feels. “Progress from wedges to irons, then to woods, only when you feel the right range of motion and the swing is pain-free,” says Dr. Erin Boynton of Toronto.
- Post-surgery, be mindful of weak spots, says Mike Ranger, a physiotherapist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “Some areas have to be strengthened, like your abductor muscles after a hip replacement, or your quadriceps and hamstrings after knee surgery.”
- Don’t rush. “You can’t speed biology – your body heals at a certain pace,” says Dr. William Stanish of Halifax. When are you ready? When you can play pain-free, he says. Come back too quickly, and you just risk going back on the bench.
The great thing about golf is that with proper treatment for injuries – or with the right precautions and preparations in the off-season, between rounds, and on the course – you can play the sport for life. “You can keep going forever,” says Dr. Stanish, “and that’s the great sell.”
Getting the Most Out of Your Round
The best start to a round of golf? It’s not a booming drive or a well-drained putt. Leave time for warm-ups, and thoughts on how you’ll negotiate the course.
- Stretch and hit the range (from wedges to woods) for about 20 minutes to allow your soft tissues to get warm. “If you step to the first tee and try to hit Big Bertha 400 yards, you’re more likely to tweak something,” says Dr. Erin Boynton of Toronto. “You have to build up to it.”
- If you’re rushing from the car to the first tee, go through the golfing motion 5-10 times, without a club.
- The roughly five miles you’ll walk in an average 18-hole round is good exercise, and keeps you loose. Riding in a cart (sitting in general) puts a big load on your lumbar spine, notes Dr. William Stanish of Halifax. The older you get, the less elastic you are.
- Carrying a golf bag, even with the best straps, can strain your upper back. “When I see people carrying a golf bag, I want to give them my card,” says Jean-David Gagne, an athletic therapist in Quebec City who specializes in treating golfers. Make use of the pull-carts to save back strain.
Fore! Watch Out for Golf Injuries
When Tiger Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open on a bum knee – he announced days later that he needed ACL surgery – it only bolstered his legend. It also highlighted the injuries that can befall any golfer, from Tiger to the weekend hacker.
For most golfers, the risk of injury comes from repetitive motion, explains Dr. Ross Leighton, orthopaedic surgeon and Professor of Surgery at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Common damage can include pressure on the leading elbow (medial epicondylitis or “golfer’s elbow”); overuse or tearing of the rotator cuff in the shoulder; lower back strain or herniated discs; and bursitis or pain around the hip girdle.
Dr. Leighton explains that treatments can range from icing and anti-inflammatories in the vast majority of cases, to steroid injections for bursitis or rotator cuff tears, to surgery for a very small minority. Surgery to elbows and shoulders are most common for golfers.
Know the warning signs: Aches and pains can be normal after a round, are usually generalized, and typically go away in 24-48 hours. So watch out for sharp pains during your swing, localized pain, or pain that lasts over 48 hours – they can be warning signs that it’s time to see a doctor.
A Booming Drive…to Prepare
For golfers, staying on course depends on what they do off the course. The right fitness and exercise routine during the offseason and between rounds can reduce injuries.
- Work on your flexibility and core strengthening, says Dr. William Stanish, a Halifax orthopaedic surgeon. A month before playing for the first time, start with back and shoulder stretches. Swing a club at home, nice and easy, to get used to the motion. Ask a doctor, fitness centre, physiotherapy clinic, or golf club about routines that suit golfers.
- During golf season, stretch your muscles three times a week, about 20-30 minutes at a time.
- In the golf swing, everything is connected, reminds Dr. Erin Boynton of Toronto. Your shoulder could hurt, but the root problem is an imbalance with your hips and back. “You need exercises to rebalance and strengthen, and stretches to loosen up,” says Dr. Boynton.
- To prevent some common injuries, see a professional – a golf pro. “It’s all about the mechanics,” says Dr. Jennifer Fletcher, an orthopaedic surgeon in Saint John, New Brunswick. Fixing a hitch in your swing can relieve stress in one area, and have a domino effect throughout your body.