Stay on course: Expert advice for avoiding, treating golf injuries

Image courtesy flickr user Lucia Sanchez.
Image courtesy flickr user Lucia Sanchez.

It doesn’t matter if you are a professional or casual enthusiast; golfers are prone to wrist injuries. Dr. Thomas Hunt of Baylor College of Medicine, an expert in this area, answers frequent questions about these common golf injuries, why they occur and how we can best avoid them.

Q: Is there a specific type of golfer who might be more prone to a wrist injury than others?

A: . Since the wrist is vital to a golf swing, wrist injuries are common. Fortunately, the incidence of injury in the amateur is lower than in the professional. This may be a result of a professional’s intense schedule and the fact that the pros focus on swinging through the ball, generating more force at impact.

On the other hand, weekend golfers, whose swing may be a bit rusty or whose bodies aren’t accustomed to the motion and force associated with the repetitious golf swing, are also prone to injury. Irregular participation in golf (or in exercise of any sort), especially if associated with practice sessions on a hard surface or mat, may also be a factor.

Q: How do you know if pain is simply due to overdoing it, maybe just requiring rest, or something more serious?

A: Golfers can take solace in the fact that the most common reason for wrist pain is overuse, which generally implies inflammation of the tendons (tendonitis) that move the wrist and fingers and stabilizes the joints. When a patient describes the onset and character of their wrist discomfort, it clues me in to the problem at hand.

For example, did the pain develop immediately following a traumatic event, or did it begin after a round or series of rounds? Did it subside but then progress? Is the pain sharp or dull and aching? Is it only present during or immediately after play or is it always there, with simple daily activities? Understanding the phase of swing that exacerbates the problem also can help define the injury even more precisely.

Q: For a player who has battled a golf injury for some time, what would you recommend?

A: A trial of rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication and a slow, progressive return to the sport is indicated, especially if problems persist. How much rest and how slow the return depends on the particulars of the injury and rely on the player’s judgment. This is where a basic understanding of anatomy and an awareness of common wrist problems can benefit the athlete.

In general, five to seven days are needed to treat the initial inflammation associated with overuse and another couple of weeks to re-enter the game. During this two-week period, appropriate heated stretches and focused strengthening followed by ice can be valuable. Even if the symptoms disappear, they may very well recur.

The injured golfer must be aware of this likelihood and re-institute treatment quickly. These recurrences should become less frequent and the symptoms less severe with time until they finally go away. If they don’t, an evaluation by a medical specialist is needed.

Players must understand that once wrist problems manifest and pain develops, natural wrist motion and grip strength decrease, leaving the wrist vulnerable to continued injury. It’s not just a matter of just pushing through the pain. With this approach, problems will frequently worsen. The grip weakness necessitates more wrist motion than is typical or ideal, pushing a painful joint past its comfort zone and exacerbating the underlying difficulties.

Q: In terms of exercise, what can older players do so they can keep playing for as long as possible?

A: The phrase “move it or lose it” is definitely applicable here. I am not alone in believing that exercise is key to a long, healthful and happy life. Golf

is an ideal form of exercise for athletes of all ages given the emphasis on walking, but as we age, flexibility becomes more limited and pain from arthritis more prevalent.

Heat and stretching prior to activity will improve flexibility and help prevent injury. Sometimes use of an anti-inflammatory medication one hour prior to play will make the round more pleasant.

Suffering from a wrist injury? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Hunt and learn more about our Department of Orthopedic Surgery.


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