To the casual observer the sport of golf may seem a relaxing, calm respite from daily routine, however nothing is farther from the truth. Today in the U.S. there are over 25 million golfers and 15-20% of them will experience some form of golf injury. Of those, 80% will be from overuse and improper form. Worse, 50% of golf injuries will become chronic.
Low back pain is cited as the #1 complaint from golfers; however knee pain takes its toll on golfers as a very common ailment. This is hardly a surprise when you realize the sport requires excessive rotation of the knee as well as disproportionate force during your swing. When simply walking you are distributing your body weight evenly. In golf, the principal hazard to the knee is on the downswing when the forward knee experiences 4 ½ times your body weight and the opposite knee 3 ½ times. For example, a right handed golfer of 180 pounds will place 810 pounds of weight onto their left knee from a powerful downswing. This process repeated over 18 holes places a heavy burden on the knees, particularly the left knee.
One of the more common knee injuries we see in golfers is a meniscus tear. The meniscus is a shock absorber, with one located on either side of the knee to help evenly distribute weight across the knee. When a meniscus is torn, you may have pain, swelling, or stiffness, and may find yourself suddenly off balance from your knee “giving out”. Golf activity may exacerbate a pre-existing tear.
So, how can you prevent or limit injury to continue enjoying your game? Here are some tips:
- If you haven’t golfed for an extended period of time, don’t jump back into the game. Ease in slowly.
- Perform appropriate warm ups with stretching, including calves, to diminish risk of injury.
- To stabilize your knees, keep your lower back and hip muscles strengthened with proper and regular exercises; see your physical therapist or golf coach for tips.
- Increase your overall flexibility.
- Use a ball retriever instead of bending at the knees to pick up your ball.
- Decrease the frequency of your games when you have knee discomfort. If you typically golf 3 or 4 times a week, reduce that to once or twice. Rest between games. Repeating the same activity every day will intensify your condition.
- A knee brace during play may help lessen discomfort.
- Ice your knees for 10-15 minutes after 18 holes.
- If you’ve had knee surgery, it is critical to follow your physical therapy protocol and receive clearance from your physician.
Jeffrey Silverstein, MD is a Fellowship Trained and Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon with a specialty in hip and knee joint reconstruction. At Sarasota Orthopedic Associates our commitment is to get our patients back on their feet, back to work, back in the game, and back to life. Fore!