The Tiger pounces back to glory after 11 years, returning to the top of his game with an incredible win at the US Masters last weekend. Plagued by multiple injuries, many experts did not expect Woods to be able to play competitively again as recently as two years ago. After going through multiple surgeries and therapies, Woods has made one of the biggest comebacks in the history of golf, cementing his position as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time.
Injuries are not limited to just golf pros; many golfers suffer from all types of injuries but continue to power through their pain. To compensate for the discomfort, they change their stance and swing in an attempt to work around injuries and get the desired shot. Some change their swing so drastically that it looks painful and uncomfortable, driving the ball in a manner that looks like they may sprain their backs or damage their joints.
Common injuries in Golf
All golfers know that it is great swings that get the ball high and far. It is not about brute force or hitting the ball as hard as you possibly can. When the club fails to strike the ball cleanly but also contacts the ground, it immediately sends shockwave through the body, this repetitive trauma often result in bodily pains and injuries.
When I treat golfers for injuries, it is commonly the knees, lower back and elbow that present the most issues. The latter is so common that even those unfamiliar with golf are familiar with the term golfer’s elbow. Many of my patients seem to neglect their feet. They don’t think they use their feet much but that can’t be further from the truth: the feet are fundamental in the transition of energy from the ground to the legs in delivering the ideal swing.
We have the benefit of slow-motion video to study Wood’s golf strokes. He utilises a motion akin to a power jump; the hips and lower body begins the swing. Woods deliberately lowers his centre of gravity in the beginning, and then efficiently transfers the ground reaction force through his feet, legs and spine into his powerful drive.
The positioning and stability of the left and right foot play a huge part in the quality and power of the swing. When striking the ball there is a very complex weight transfer through the body and across both the left and right feet. This repetitive motion when playing 18 holes or even a regular session on the driving range can lead to the development of certain specific stress injuries in the lower limbs.
On top of this, there is all the walking around. Data collected from the 2016 European Tour showed that players walked an average of 6.5km when completing 18 holes and only spent 5 minutes swinging the club. A different study recorded that golfers walked an average of over 12,000 steps to complete a 6,605-yard course.1 Consequently, golfers frequently walk long distances without realising it.
Golf injuries are common amongst both adult and children patient groups, as well as amongst avid and amateur golfers. Players are all vulnerable to injuries no matter their training, age, skill or gender, and most of these injuries were caused by either acute or overuse causes.
Treating golf related injuries fast
In my practice, focal shockwave is the non-surgical treatment of choice for many musculoskeletal pains and injuries as it is performed in clinic quickly and usually without the need for medications or injections. Shockwave therapy has been widely used to treat professional athletes and laymen for decades with favourable clinical outcomes. A typical session in our clinic lasts between 20-30 minutes, and the recovery period could range from 4-12 sessions depending on the severity of the injury.
Focal shockwave treatment directs high-intensity acoustic waves which target injuries with pinpoint precision, healing at a cellular level where fingers and other modalities cannot reach. Focal shockwave has proven highly effective for rapidly treating back, elbow, shoulder, knee and foot pains and injuries.
Everyone understands intuitively that certain body types offer intrinsic advantage in certain sports. For example, taller people have it easier when competing in basketball (after excluding individual differences in training). Ever thought about how certain foot types, or foot shapes, also offer natural optimisation for certain sports? You don’t need drugs for more power; it’s all in the footwork.
Studies have shown that prescription foot orthotics can improve swing power and club head velocity by 5-7%, allowing a golfer to gain up to 15 yards per shot.2
Aside from priming the athlete for more efficient and powerful motion, sports orthotics also improve overall posture and correct misalignment so that overuse injuries and excessive joint damage are less likely to occur. A custom-tailored foundation provides stability and optimises ground reaction force throughout the game, reduces muscle fatigue and excessive torque at major joints such as the knees. As a healthcare specialist who is trained in the applied science of biomechanics, a sports podiatrist would design an ideal orthotic to fit the golfer’s shoes, body structure and golfing stance. Foot orthotics also reduces rotation at the knee and in turn reduces the likelihood of knee surgery in the years to come.
Peterson, Mark & J. McClain, James & Grollman, Michael & Alvar, Brent. (2006). Sports and Exercise – MED SCI SPORT EXERCISE. 38. 10.1249/00005768-200605001-02076.
Stude, David E. et al. Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics , Volume 24 , Issue 4 , 279 – 287
Lewis Nurney (Senior Podiatrist & Deputy Head of Department)
Lewis subspecialises in sports injuries in his practice at East Coast Podiatry Centre, Singapore