Golf is generally seen as a low impact sport, suitable for individuals of all age groups and abilities. This is borne out by research suggesting that over a quarter of all regular golfers are over 65 years old. At the same time, golf-related injuries are surprisingly common. Studies suggest that 40% of recreational golfers and 60% of professionals suffer at least one injury per season.
Studies of the golf swing suggest that greatest pressures are experienced by the lower back and hips. Secondary to these are the shoulders and arms, with the legs having the least pressure exerted on them. It should therefore be little surprise that joint injuries are commonplace among golfers, with a particular emphasis on the back and hips.
But what can be done to reduce the chances of joint pain when enjoying a round of golf?
Invest in Coaching
Studies show considerable differences between the way in which amateur and experienced golfers hit the ball. More practiced individuals, for example, tend to swing far more smoothly, while less experienced golfers tend to be more “jerky”. This, in turn, can impact joints.
Sports scientists suggest that the first step to protecting your joints when playing golf is to get some expert coaching. In this manner, you’ll be able to receive personalized tuition to help you perfect your swing technique. Not only will your game improve, but you should also reduce the odds of injury.
Warm Up Properly
Research suggests that as a low impact sport, many golfers fail to bother warming up, much like they would before more intensive exercise. However, this may be a mistake.
Firstly, it should be remembered that golf is a “whole body” exercise, which can put surprising pressure on muscles and joints. Additionally, golf can be surprisingly demanding if studies are to be believed. In one, golfers of different age groups were assessed for cardiac activity levels during play, and it was found that high intensity levels were reached for 30% of the time in middle-aged golfers and for 70% of the time in the elderly.
In other words, golf requires warming up just like any other sport. Experts recommend a focus on not just muscles but also joint flexibility. Exercises that condition the lower back – such as reaching down to touch your toes – are suggested to be particularly beneficial.
Maintain Year-Round Fitness
It is believed that one reason for the injury rates among even occasional golfers may well be down to a lack of ongoing training. By the time that the golf clubs are dusted off months later, any health benefits experienced from previous games have declined, and it is like starting from fresh.
Scientists now recommend that golfers should aim to maintain their level of fitness throughout the year. This should not only improve performance on the fairway but also lessen the risk of damage to under-prepared joints.
Why not either make golf a more regular part of your routine, or alternatively seek the advice of a personal trainer who will design a program specifically to support healthy joints during the “off season”.
Change Your Footwear
A rather interesting study was published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine involving footwear for golfers. Of course, most semi-serious golfers use traditional spiked golf shoes for performance, but in this study the experts had golfers wear deliberately unstable sandals instead.
The participants were then encouraged to play golf, and afterward measurements were taken both of perceived lower back pain and performance on the course. Interestingly, the findings suggest that wearing sandals reduced back pain when playing golf, while at the same time having no impact on performance.
Of course, most golf courses maintain a strict dress code. However if your chosen course is slightly more relaxed you may want to consider experimenting with alternative footwear to see how it impacts any joint pain experienced.
Lastly a number of supplements are popular among golfers looking to maintain healthy joints, especially those with some element of arthritic joint pain that may be worsened by golf.
Glucosamine is one of the more popular and better-studied such solutions. Glucosamine is a substance that is naturally present in the body, and plays an important role in joint health, but as we get older our levels can drop. As a result, supplementation is often used to top these levels back up. In proponents, some impressive pain-relieving benefits have been observed.
In one study volunteers were given either 2000mg of glucosamine per day for 12 weeks or a placebo. They were then asked to complete a number of questionnaires designed to monitor the impact of supplementation. The results indicate that self-administration of glucosamine led to significant improvements in quality of life by the eighth week.
Another study aimed to contrast the impact of glucosamine on joint pain when compared to ibuprofen. The study found that while both treatments led to similar improvements in joint pain, glucosamine’s “cartilage-rebuilding properties” were considered to be of particular benefit.
It should be said here that glucosamine tends to take longer to reduce joint pain than more traditional pain killers. Over time, however, the impact builds up. Indeed, one study found that after eight weeks of treatment glucosamine actually produced a greater pain relieving impact than ibuprofen. The message is that if you opt to try glucosamine, don’t be too hasty in deciding that it doesn’t work. It may take some months to feel the full benefit.
The other popular supplement for joint discomfort is cod liver oil. It is believed that the polyunsaturated fatty acids contained in fish oils help to calm inflammation that otherwise leads to discomfort. Studies suggest that fish oils can lead to clinically relevant improvements in pain and stiffness, and may even reduce the reliance on other pharmaceutical solutions.
There is no denying the pleasure derived from a good round of golf. At the same time, it is important to appreciate that playing golf does come with health risks. Back problems seem the most common injury, and amateurs who only play occasionally seem at most risk.
By perfecting your golf swing, warming up properly and maintaining your health over the long term the evidence suggests you’ll minimize your chances of injury. Lastly, a number of supplements are popular among golfers for minimizing or controlling any joint discomfort experienced.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll be in the best position possible for an injury-free golf season.
This article was written by the nutritionists at supplement retailer Simply Supplements. If you’d like to learn more about supplements for joints then please click here.