While the cold, rainy weather is still with us for a few more weeks, the longer daylight hours and drier days will soon be upon us and it will be golf season again.
One of the reasons for golf’s popularity is that people of different ages, ability levels and experience can play the game and enjoy it. It is one of those sports that can also be maintained as a competitive sport or as a relaxing recreational pursuit well into our later years.
However, most of us have not acquired a perfect swing like the pros have, so we are all susceptible to the same thing – injuries. Golf is often assumed to be a sport free from injury, but unlike other sports which often have traumatic injuries that result from blows or body contact, injury can occur due to the repetitive nature of the golf swing. Low back, shoulder and forearm injuries are common in both professional and amateur golfers.
The golf swing can generate high forces in the trunk musculature and this may lead to low back pain or injury over time. Elite level golfers experience compressive loads many times their own bodyweight during the drive and experience shearing forces nearly equivalent to those experienced during squatting. Since professional golfers and avid amateurs can perform hundreds or even thousands of swings every month, the potential for injury from repetitive overuse can be appreciated.
All golfers, professional and amateur alike, can reduce their risk of low-back injury by spending some of their time working on their swing mechanics, but also by participating in a strengthening and stretching program. These strength programs need not emphasize heavy weight training and are better focused on moderate resistance while promoting a functional approach to core, legs, and arms. Addressing technique errors with a golf professional will also decrease the forces upon the spine and reduce incorrect muscle compensation patterns.
The trunk muscles provide two functions in the golf swing: one is stabilization, the other torso rotation. Having a strong and stable core is crucial to anchor the drive generated by the leg muscles through the centre of the body to the shoulders and arms. It is also a key to minimizing high forces on the spine. Trunk rotation contributes to maximizing the distance the club travels and the force developed through the entire swing. However, muscles also need to be stretched, otherwise they will continue to shorten and cause not only a decrease in available range (shortening of the swing), but also friction injuries such as tendonitis or muscle strains (‘pulled’ muscles).
So much for strength and flexibility in golf – what about the cardiovascular component? Researchers at Stockholm University in Sweden did a study that examined the effects of playing 18 holes of golf on the cardiovascular conditioning of middle-aged and elderly golfers. Two groups of subjects who were 50 and 70 years old had their cardiovascular capacity measured and then one week later played an 18-hole course without a golf cart. The elderly golfers stayed above 50 per cent of their maximum heart rate during the entire round of golf, while the middle-aged golfers fell below this mark 16 per cent of the time. The researchers concluded that playing an 18-hole golf course by walking is moderate to high intensity exercise for the elderly golfer, and a low to moderate intensity exercise for the middle-aged golfer. Improving one’s cardiovascular condition will help fight fatigue and maintain proper swing mechanics later in your round.
Getting a head-start on the golf season by strengthening, stretching and getting some extra aerobic exercise will help you incur fewer injuries and have more fun on the golf course this year.
• Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology in Maple Ridge (westcoastkinesiology.com)