Taking your first swing during National Golf Month?
A TPI-certified PT’s tips for staying injury-free as you try out New Jersey’s hottest golf spots
By Dr. Michael E. Polykama, TPI-Certified PT, DPT
August is National Golf Month, when tempting summer discounts invite many new golfers off the sidelines and onto the green for the first time. I’m a big fan of this tradition, because it gives so many new players the opportunity to enjoy all the physical benefits of this great sport: Not only is it a fun way to reduce stress and build endurance, but according to the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA), you can burn up to 2,000 calories in an 18-hole round!
But I also need to caution new golfers not to underestimate the risk of injury. While it’s true that golf doesn’t involve the running or rough play that people tend to associate with sports injuries, the golf swing is actually an incredibly dynamic movement that engages the entire body – which means an improper swing can be a minefield of orthopedic injuries, due to things like overextension, repetitive motion or pre-existing conditions.
I would know; I’m a doctor of physical therapy with Titlelist Performance Institute (TPI) certification – which means I’ve developed expertise in the body’s abilities and limitations as they relate to the golf swing from a biomechanical perspective.
Here are my safety tips for some of the most common golf injuries I see here at Scerbo Physical Therapy & Sports Rehab in Edgewater:
Injury: Lower back pain
How it happens: Incorrect swing patterns, such as early extension or hanging back, are a common culprit. And certain pre-existing issues such as mobility deficits or poor motor control/programming can make you more susceptible – particularly if you have decreased range of motion in the lead hip, or decreased core motor programming and strength.
A fairly simple test can assess your risk for back pain: Time yourself as you try a side plank on each side. If you can hold the plank on one side for more than 12.5 seconds longer than on the other side, this indicates a higher risk.
Prevention: For a pain free golf swing, first you’ll need to improve any physical restrictions through stretching, flexibility and mobility exercises as well as stability, motor control, and strengthening exercises. Try dissociating the pelvis/core from thoracic spine with a resisted hip abduction in a static posture with thoracic rotation.
Once your range of motion and mobility are at their best, you can avoid those swing pattern mistakes by investing in lessons with a golf pro to learn proper timing and form. Try Joy Golf in Edgewater.
Recovery: You can relieve back pain by alternating hot and cold packs and using a foam roller – and make sure you don’t feed back into those deficits and poor mechanics that got you there in the first place!
Injury: Meniscus tear (knee)
How it happens: Too much knee flexion during setup, decreased hip and ankle mobility (sways and slides), can lead to this painful injury.
Prevention: Focus on improving mobility throughout mobile joints, such as the ankles and hips. Try a piriformis stretch. You can modify your swing and set up as well, by “opening up” your front leg – in other words, externally rotate your front leg slightly, so you’ll have better range of motion when you hold your finish.
Recovery: This will depend on whether you’ve injured the medial or the lateral meniscus, as well as the type and size of the injury, and whether it’s acute or chronic. Skilled rehabilitation can help improve mobility and stability deficits to take stress off different areas during a golf swing.
Injury: Rotator cuff tendonitis
How it happens: This is all about your form. Limited thoracic rotation through your swing, casting your club (that means rapidly decelerating on the downward portion of your swing) or decreased forearm pronation through the backswing can all contribute to rotator cuff pain.
Recovery: Start with ice and rest. If you feel like you have over-stressed your shoulder, try some gentle mobility and stretching exercises with focus on eccentric loading and motor control throughout the posterior chain of the shoulder. Of course it always helps to see a physical therapist/TPI medical instructor!
Where to go to get your golf on
Now that you know how to do it safely, let’s get to the fun part: Where to go if you live in Bergen or North Bergen to see some great games, get your gear and start golfing!
Before you hit the course, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the right footwear, attire and other gear. In Paramus, try Golf Galaxy. If you’re in Englewood Cliffs, go to GOLFTEC in Englewood. Other great shops in Bergen County include Joy Golf Edgewater, J Golf Fort Lee and Grand Golf Pro Shops in Palisades Park.
Courses and lessons
When you’re ready to learn proper technique, look no further than Bergen County, which has some of the best golf driving ranges, courses and schools this side of the Hudson River. If you live in Edgewater or Cliffside Park, try Joy Golf or Edgewater Golf Range.
If you’re in West New York, Weehawken or Hoboken, check out the Skyway Golf Course or Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City. In Palisades Park, I like 21 Golf Driving Range. A few more places to try are Closter Golf Center, Paramus Golf Course, Hackensack Golf Club in Emerson, Overpeck Golf Course in Teaneck or Knickerbocker Country Club in Tenafly.
There are also a number of municipal golf courses throughout New Jersey that are open to the public. For example in Monmouth County, where I golf, there are six public courses, in Wall, Millstone Township, Colts Neck, Farmingdale, Manalapan and Neptune.
Upcoming golf events
Don’t miss these exciting Bergen County Golf tournaments, which will all be held at Rockleigh Golf Course in Rockleigh: The BC Amateur Ladies and Senior Men’s tournament is scheduled for August 23, the BC Amateur Men’s Final is September 9 and the Fourball is September 20.
We are always available if you have any questions or need assistance. Call us at 201-941-2240 or visit us at www.scerbopt.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Scerbo Physical Therapy and Sports Rehabilitation, 725 River Road, Suite 60 (Marketplace), Edgewater, New Jersey 07020.