Common Golf Injuries

Causes include repetitive motion, trauma, and poor swing technique

Golf player, rear view
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People don't generally associate golf with sports injuries given the relatively sedate nature of the game. But according to a study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio, there are over 30,000 golf-related injuries treated in American emergency rooms every year.

Surprisingly, injuries were seen most commonly in two groups: golfers between the ages of seven and 17 (22.1 percent) and those 55 and over (21.8 percent).

In terms of hospitalization rates, older golfers were as much as five times more like to be admitted compared to compared to younger golfers. While many of these injuries were related to a traumatic injury (such as being hit by a ball or a struck by golf swing), nearly a third (30.6 percent) were related to a strain, sprain, or stress fracture.

These numbers do not reflect non-emergency injuries which are often related to repetitive motion (overuse) injuries or the progressive strain put on the back, wrists, hips, and knees by an improper swing technique.

While a golf injury can affect any part of the body, the most common are associated with the lower back and spine, shoulder, elbow, and wrist.

Lower Back and Spine Injuries

Most lower back and spine injuries that occur in golf are related to an existing problem. Golf tends to exacerbate the issue when the following occurs:

  • Muscle strain is usually associated with a rough or forceful swing (such as happen when one "pushes" a swing) or a sudden shift in body position during the downswing.
  • Herniated disks are worsened by abnormalities in the golf swing.
  • Lumbar (back) strain commonly occurs in poorly conditioned golfers or when a player swings while standing at an acute angle (such as the edge of a water hazard or sand trap).

Since most of these injuries are acute, resting several days with a cold compress and nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAID) can usually help. If the pain is severe or persistent, see your doctor immediately.

Shoulder Injuries

Shoulder injuries can vary by whether it occurs on the leading shoulder (the shoulder positioned forward on a swing) or the non-leading shoulder. Injuries can be caused by repetitive motion, abnormal swings, or a sudden abrupt change in motion (such as hitting a rock on a downward swing).

Whether acute or chronic, injuries to the shoulder usually require medical attention. In some cases, a shoulder brace or sling may be needed to restrict movement. A severe tear or joint separation may require surgery followed by extensive physical therapy.

Elbow Injuries

Insofar as the elbow is concerned, the most common injury is medial epicondylitis (a.k.a. golfer's elbow). Golfer's elbow is a condition which causes pain where the tendons of your forearm meet the bony protrusion on the inner elbow. The pain will often radiate into the forearm and wrist.

While golfer's elbow can be caused by overuse, it can also be exacerbated by an overextended backswing or over-flexing wrist on the downswing. Golfer's elbow is most typically seen on the non-leading elbow.

Golfer's elbow is similar to lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) which develops on the outer elbow. While less common in golf, tennis elbow is most commonly seen on the leading elbow.

As repetitive motion injuries, both conditions are often accompanied by elbow bursitis. Treatment typically involves rest, NSAIDs, icing the affected area and using an elbow brace to restrict movement.

Wrist Injuries

Wrist injuries are usually caused by an improper grip, poor swing technique, a club impact during the downswing (such as with a tree root), or overuse. Among some of the more common wrist injuries:

  • Wrist tendinitis usually develops in the leading hand which needs to bend forward on the backswing and flexes backward at the end of the swing.
  • Hamate bone fractures occur when the club hits the ground abnormally and compresses the handle against the bony hooks at the end of the smaller hamate (wrist) bones.
  • Wrist sprains can occur when a club strikes an object and twists the wrist abnormally.
  • Ulnar tunnel syndrome is nerve damage to wrist caused by the repeated hammering of the club handle against the palm. This can cause pain, inflammation, and numbness and is often associated with an improper or lose grip.

Given the nature of these injuries, medical attention should be sought in order to X-ray for any damage and properly immobilize the wrist.

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Article Sources
  • Walsh, B.; Chounthirath, T.; Friedenberg L. et al. "Golf-related injuries treated in United States emergency departments." Am J Emerg Med. 2017;35(11):1666-71. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajem.2017.05.035.