Did you know that more Canadians participate in golf than any other sport? 5.7 million Canadian golfers play over 60 million rounds of golf annually. Golf is especially popular with middle-aged and older Canadians. (PT Alberta)
In Canada, golf is generally considered an outdoor, spring or summer activity, but the opening of indoor golf domes, smaller golf centers and golf enthusiasts travelling to warmer climates to play has made it possible for Canadians to enjoy golf year-round. While this means Canadians can take advantage of the health benefits associated with golf all year, more time on the course may also increase the risk for injuries associated with the sport.
Golf is good for you?
Canadian physical activity guidelines recommend adults over 18 should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week in bouts of at least 10 minutes.3
Many people assume golf is a leisure activity and that golfers do not reach a high enough level of intensity to be counted toward their weekly activity goals. However, although not as intense as some sports, a golfer who walks a nine or 18 hole course expends enough energy to classify golf in the moderate intensity group, meeting the physical activity guidelines.4
Walking 18 holes carrying or pushing your clubs takes around four hours, requires 11,000 to 17,000 steps, covers 4-8 miles and expends 500 to 2,400 calories.4 If you add in a few hills, take more strokes, cover more ground between shots or are a little less fit, the numbers are more likely to be in the higher ranges. Using a cart decreases the overall numbers by 50% but it’s still better than sitting at home.4
What are some of the benefits of golfing?
Evidence suggests that golfing can have beneficial effects on:4
- Cardiovascular health: Golfing may be associated with improvements in known risk factors associated with heart disease by increasing physical activity levels, improving blood lipid and insulin-glucose levels, reducing overall body fat, and improving aerobic fitness.4
- Respiratory health: Regular participation in golf may improve and maintain lung function in older adults.4
- Musculoskeletal health: Older golfers may show improvement in balance, muscle function and strength, and golfing may be associated with better bone health in women.4
- Mental health: Golf has been associated with positive impacts on overall mental wellness.4
What injuries may result from golfing?
Studies suggest that between 40% to 60% of golfers sustain a golf-related injury each year. Although approximately 25% of participants are aged 65 and over and may have pre-existing conditions that predispose them to injury, injuries are seen among golfers of all ages.
The most common golf-related injuries affect the low back, shoulders, elbows or wrists. Nearly all injuries relate to poor technique or faulty swing mechanics. Many of these injuries are caused by the unique twisting forces and the combination of movements that a golf swing applies to the body. Most fall into the category of overuse or repetitive strain injuries.
What can I do to prevent getting injured?
Tips to make your next round injury-free include:
- Warm-up: Start with some general aerobic activity such as walking for 10 minutes, then hit a few balls at the practice range. On the practice tee start with your short irons, then the long irons, the woods and finally your driver.6 Practice using gentle swings and focus on good technique. Warming up in this sequence lets your body get used to the combined movements of a golf swing before you add the resistance of a heavier golf club. If you have the opportunity, practice on natural turf. The natural golf swing involves some degree of contact between the club and the ground so practicing on artificial surfaces may increase stress to the wrists and elbows, leading to injury.6
- Stretch: There are mixed opinions as to whether stretching should be included in warm-up routines to prevent injury. However, stretching on a regular basis does help to increase your range of motion and flexibility.7 Both are important to ensure you have the physical ability to produce a full, easy swing and to ensure you are not putting too much stress on your back while twisting. Be sure to include stretches for your upper body and back as well as your wrists, shoulders and low back. Remember that stretching should not be painful. Focus on gradually increasing your range of movement and holding each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds without bouncing.
- Build up your golf endurance: When the sun is shining, and the opportunity arises, you may just want to play those 18 holes whether you’re prepared or not. Acting on that impulse without being prepared may increase your chance of getting injured. You will get more out of golf season if you gradually build up your time spent on the course. Consider starting on the driving range and then gradually increasing your game from 9 to 18 holes.
Preparing for the next golf season or winter golf getaway
- Rest: A four to six week break from golfing allows your body to recover from the last season and prepare for the next one. Canadian winters allow for a natural break from golf; however, if you travel to warm destinations during the winter months and make golfing part of those travels, you may want to schedule in a break from golf as part of your yearly travel plans.
- Strengthening: A strengthening program for your core muscles and upper body will decrease your risk of injury and lead to better results on the golf course. Exercises should focus on the shoulders, wrists/forearms, back and core.6 If you are unsure how to start, contact a physiotherapist for some recommendations.
- Aerobic fitness: Working on your general physical fitness in both the regular and offseason will improve your cardiovascular strength and fitness and allow you to transition between the off season and golf season with greater ease. Good exercises for aerobic fitness include walking, jogging, swimming and cycling; anything that gets your pulse rate up. This too will help you meet the activity recommendations set out by the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults.
What do I do if I have a golf-related injury?
Whether you are a golf enthusiast or an occasional weekend player, getting back to the game safely is important.
Staying on top of injuries and preventing new problems from becoming chronic will help you to enjoy the game for years to come. If you are injured, investing in rest and physiotherapy treatment will help. Consulting a professional golf instructor in conjunction with physiotherapy may also help you to modify your swing, prevent injury and be able to participate for years to come. Being able to enjoy a pain-free game of golf without worrying about an injury is a goal that physiotherapists can help with.