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Prep Like a Pro For Upcoming Golf Season

By Marge Dwyer
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent

When spring is in the air in the Northeast, golf lovers dust off their clubs and flock in droves to driving ranges to hit buckets of balls. Or they may simply race from work directly to the golf course five minutes before tee-time and start playing without warming up or stretching.

"This is a recipe for injuries," said Dr. Robert G. Davis, orthopaedic surgeon and  sports medicine physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. It's no wonder 60 percent of all golfers have a major injury in their careers and 50 percent of professional golfers miss time each year due to injuries, he said.

"Many golfers don't bother to warm up because they consider golf a 'non-athletic sport,'" said Dr. Davis, himself an avid golfer. "Think of yourself like a pro and take 45 to 60 minutes to warm up." He recommends head-to-toe stretching for five to 10 minutes, aerobic activity to raise the heart rate, and swinging the clubs for about 15-20 minutes, starting with the short clubs and ending with the longer clubs.

Physical therapists who help golfers prevent injuries and recover from injuries agree that being in shape, having good body mechanics and knowing how to warm up, stretch and cool down are critical.

"Many golf injuries occur when golfers prep for the season at the driving range," agreed physical therapist Mark Dynan, Supervisor of Rehabilitation Services at Beth Israel Deaconess Healthcare - Lexington. "After being sedentary during the winter, you're at the driving range hitting 75-130 balls for an hour -- one after the other, with no rest in between - bending down repeatedly to move the balls from the bucket to the tee. Compare this to playing 18 holes -- taking 80 to 120 swings over three to four hours, walking between holes and resting between putts."

Most golf injuries come from golfing too long or too often, poor mechanics, gripping the club too hard, and poor stance or posture. "See a physical therapist to learn how to strengthen and stretch muscles and see a golf instructor to correct technique," Dynan advised. "If you swing or grip the club incorrectly, it strains your body - particularly your shoulder, back and elbow."

To avoid having to "rehab" after an injury, Dr. Davis recommends "pre-habilitating" to prevent injuries. Two or three months ahead of golf season, golfers should be strengthening core muscles (abdominals, back, gluteus maximus and mid-section), work on flexibility and do exercises designed to help golfers avoid injuries.

The most frequent golf injuries are:

Lower back: This is the most common golf injury because of the twisting and turning in the sport. To shoot straighter and further, you need range of motion and flexibility in your back so that you don't strain the ligaments in the lower back. To reduce pressure from the lower back, hips need to be flexible.

Upper middle back: Between the shoulder blades is often the site of an acute injury in golfers who try to get into the game too quickly. "If people swing improperly they can pull a muscle between the shoulder blade and even fracture a rib," Dr. Davis said.

Shoulder: It's important to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder to keep the ball-and-socket joint operating smoothly.

Elbow: Gripping the club with too much force or swinging too hard can stress tissues that run from the elbow to the wrist. It's called " golfer's elbow" when it's on the inside of the elbow, and " tennis elbow" when it's on the outside; despite the name, golfers can get both conditions. "I see the elbow issue in golfers each week in my practice," Dr. Davis said. You need to strengthen your forearm muscles.

When injuries occur, changes occur in the tendons, chronic inflammation can develop and pain sets in. Rest, ice packs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents can help, followed by strengthening exercises and stretching, and gradually returning to the sport.

Dudley Blodget of Winchester, MA, knows firsthand the benefits of working with Dynan on his golf game for many years. He's had golfer's elbow and he's learned how the twisting motion of a golf swing can easily cause muscles to pull and pinch, particularly when you're older. "You're not as flexible at 65 as you were at 18. You have to learn how to adapt your swing to compensate for weakness," Dudley said.

With Dynan's help on flexibility and strength training, Blodget is back playing golf and other sports two to three times a week and exercises on the side. "Mark has helped me stretch and be limber. He's helped me stay in the game," he said.

To schedule an appointment with the  Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine experts at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, call (617) 667-3940. For an appointment with the experts in the  Rehabilitation Services at Beth Israel Deaconess Healthcare Lexington, 482 Bedford Street, call (781) 672-2010.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2011

Contact Information

Sports Medicine & Shoulder Surgery
Carl J. Shapiro Department of Orthopaedics
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Carl J. Shapiro Clinical Center, 2nd Floor
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
617-66-SPORT (667-7678)