Get Ready for Golf
A conditioning program and some simple strategies can keep you playing golf even if you have joint problems.
Golf is an appealing sport for millions of Americans, including about 17 million people over age 50. Getting older doesn't diminish the desire to play, but it can present some new challenges.
About 40% of all golfers play with injuries. "Most problems for recreational golfers center around the low back, shoulders and elbows," says Cleveland Clinic rheumatologist Scott Burg, DO.
Combine that with pain and stiffness from arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions and it can start to take the enjoyment out of the game. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which can affect several joints, including knees, hips, ankles, fingers and neck.
Dr. Burg encourages people not to give up on golf. "There are so many things we can do to make a round of golf pleasurable and healthy," he says. It begins with preparing your body.
"As recreational golfers, our swings are not as finely tuned as those of professional golfers," says Dr. Burg. "The ability to essentially swing from the ground up as opposed to using your arms or your back makes a big difference, and the fact that we don't do that can promote injury."
A conditioning program can be very helpful for preventing injury and minimizing any pain. Preferably, it should start before the golf season. We are well into the season now, but it's not too late to get some help and to think about preparing your body for next season.
Get Expert Help
There are health and fitness experts, including physical therapists, chiropractors and physicians, who are certified by the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI). These professionals have extensive training in golf-related injuries and golf fitness.
"They can determine what parts of the body are problem areas before you play golf, and they will create an individualized conditioning program," says Dr. Burg, who is a certified TPI golf expert. Cleveland Clinic has several certified golf experts, and you can also find one in your area on the TPI website (mytpi.com). Golf assessments are not usually covered by health insurance unless you have a golf-related injury.
Dr. Burg has some general recommendations to help prevent injuries and make golf as comfortable as possible.
Maintain normal weight. Being overweight puts significant pressure on load-bearing joints, such as the knees, hips and low back. This can be problematic when swinging a golf club. To minimize extra load on your joints, try to maintain your weight in the normal range.
Warm up before teeing off. A physical therapist or other golf expert can give you some specific warm-up exercises. This can be as simple as a five- to 10-minute brisk walk or light jog to the practice range. "If you get on the practice range cold, you are only asking for injury," says Dr. Burg.
Stay hydrated. It's important to drink water and stay hydrated both before and during play. Dr. Burg recommends drinking one 20-ounce bottle of water before the round and about three bottles of water during the round. Be sure to check with your doctor to make sure you don't have a medical condition that would make drinking that much water a problem.
Eat something. You should eat a small meal one to two hours before you play a round of golf. Choose low-fat, lean protein and complex carbohydrate foods. And bring snacks to eat during the round.
Use golf aids. There are numerous golf aids to help people with specific musculoskeletal issues. See the box for more detail.
Walk the course. Try to avoid riding in a golf cart. While you are sitting, your muscles tend to tighten up. And riding in a golf cart can be hard on your back as the cart bounces around the golf course. If you are unable to walk the entire course, switch between walking and riding, but walk as much as you can.
Consume water and snacks. As stated above, drink fluids during play. Choose water or sports drinks. Don't drink alcohol or drinks that contain high-fructose corn syrup. This is especially important for anyone with gout, as these can trigger a flare-up of gout symptoms.
Eat healthy snacks, such as fresh fruit or dried fruit (raisins, cherries, cranberries), nuts, peanuts or energy bars made with whole grains. These will give you energy. If you get tired, you can more easily injure yourself.
Do static stretching exercises. Your physical therapist or golf fitness expert will show you some static stretching exercises to do after a round of golf.
Apply ice. If your back, knee, ankle or other body parts are sore, apply ice for 10 to 15 minutes.
Exercise is good for joints and for your overall health, and you are more likely to keep moving if you are doing something you enjoy. So, keep playing golf. Remember, your body isn't as adaptable as it was when you were 20. Take your time and you will be less likely to injure yourself.
There are many golf aids to help minimize pain and impact on joints. Here are a few recommended by Dr. Scott Burg.
Golf gloves for both hands. Golf gloves provide padding and extra grip. People who are right handed usually wear a glove on their left hand. If you have arthritis in both hands, try using gloves on both hands. Some people who have lost some grip strength in their hands find that gloves give them better contact with the club.
Golf equipment. Dr. Burg recommends getting fitted for golf equipment by an expert who knows how to accommodate for any issues you might have. The right golf equipment depends on your body type, your swing and any injuries or other limitations you have. For example, you might require a slightly shorter shaft or a lighter club.
Oversized grips. If you have arthritis in your hands, larger and softer grips can be easier to use. Dr. Burg suggests taking one club that you don't use that much and getting a thicker grip for it. Practice with it and see if it feels more comfortable before spending the money to regrip all your clubs.
Knee braces. A variety of knee braces are available for people with knee arthritis, including a sleeve-type brace and an unloader brace. A sleeve brace provides compression and added support for unsteady knees. An unloader brace shifts pressure from one side of the knee to the other.
Spikeless golf shoes. For people with knee, ankle or foot problems, golf shoes without spikes help limit the rotational stress on hips, knees and ankles in the typical golf swing.