Avoiding Shoulder Injuries On The Links Is Critical For Golfers Of All Ages

For Immediate Release

Avoiding Shoulder Injuries on the Links Is Critical for Golfers of All Ages:
Sports orthopaedist Dr. Kevin Plancher’s prevention strategies for 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond

New York, NY and Greenwich, CT, July 2006 – You raise your arms, club in hand, in the hopes of driving the golf ball across the green. Instead, you feel a searing pain in your shoulder that prevents you from swinging at all. You think and hope that it is nothing. If you’re in your 50s or 60s, you may be tempted to pass it off as part of the aging process, but for those 20-, 30- and 40-something golfers, the idea of sustaining a game-ending rotator cuff injury during a relaxing round of golf would come as quite a surprise.

Yet it’s far from uncommon, according to Kevin Plancher, M.D., a leading NY-area orthopaedist and founder of the Orthopedic Foundation for Active Lifestyles (www.ofals.org) – a non-profit organization dedicated to advancements in research and education for orthopedics and sports medicine. “Many athletic adults do not realize that, beginning in our late 20s and early 30s, the muscles, tendons and ligaments of our joints begin to lose their elasticity and their ability to regenerate quickly after injury,” Dr. Plancher explains. “At the same time, we tend to retain the same energy and fitness levels through our 20s and into our 30s, especially if we’re active,” Dr. Plancher adds. This, he says, creates an increased potential for injury, because the body continues to work at about the same level while the joints slowly begin to degenerate over time.

Shouldering the burden of fitness
The shoulder is the most flexible joint in the body, with the potential for approximately 1,000 different positions in its range of motion. It is also one of the most heavily-relied upon joints, particularly in sports such as golf. “While golf can certainly be a relaxing way to achieve physical fitness and enjoy a social outing, it is also a sport that places heavy demands on all of the joints in the body – but particularly on the rotator cuff of the shoulder joint,” Dr. Plancher notes. The rotator cuff is a network of muscles and tendons that hold together the shoulder and arm bones, facilitating the majority of the shoulder’s movements.

Injuries to the rotator cuff can be sustained through trauma – a single event, like a poorly executed power swing, overuse, hitting a divot or from the cumulative effect of many weeks, months and years on the links. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), more than 4 million Americans each year seek treatment for a rotator cuff injury, and nearly 40,000 are severe enough to require surgical repair. Unfortunately many patients wait too long to repair a rotator cuff tear not realizing that repair and rehabilitation is significantly faster if treated early. However, in many instances, Dr. Plancher assures that these types of injuries can be minimized or avoided altogether with preventive strategies.

The Three “R”s: Ready, Recognize and Rest
Dr. Plancher believes that many sports-related injuries in general, and many golf-related rotator cuffs injuries in particular, can be prevented or minimized using the technique of “ready, recognize and rest.” He explains, “When sports enthusiasts prepare their bodies for play, they should recognize an injury when it occurs, and when they provide their bodies with time to rest and heal after an injury, they will find they could spend much more time playing their sport and less time on the sidelines.”

  1. Getting Ready – To prepare the shoulders and strengthen the rotator cuff muscles for golfing, Dr. Plancher suggests weight training exercises, each performed with relatively light weight and more repetitions, since the rotator cuff muscles can be injured simply by trying to lift too much weight. Dr. Plancher recommends simple routines, such as the forward dumbell raise or the lateral fly, and advises patients against military presses (he suggests substituting with an incline press) to avoid an awkward, injury-prone position. Warming up the entire body with easy aerobics like walking, jogging or biking prior to golfing may also lessen the chance of muscle injury.
  2. Recognizing Injury – While it is tempting to play through an injury, Dr. Plancher cautions that most joint injuries only worsen with continued stress. “It is difficult to call it quits, but players may find that a few extra hours on the course to finish out a game after a rotator cuff injury could cost them a few extra days, weeks, or months of rest and rehabilitation later,” he adds. Even more importantly, players need to recognize the difference between an overuse injury, which tends to be less severe and will respond to self-treatment, and a traumatic injury, which should be evaluated by an orthopaedist immediately.
  3. Resting the Shoulder – A vast majority of rotator cuff injuries will resolve themselves within 3-4 weeks if they are given the RICE treatment – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. “Resting the joint immediately, and coaxing it back into service with gentle stretches and strengthening exercises as it heals, will help golfers get back into the swing of things much more quickly than if they rush the rehabilitation,” Dr. Plancher notes. What’s more, an incompletely healed joint is far more likely to be reinjured.

For the small percentage of severe rotator cuff injuries that will not heal using rest and physical therapy, Dr. Plancher notes that advances in arthroscopic surgical repair have provided an alternative for young adult athletes. “Many people in their 20s, 30s and 40s simply do not have the time for lengthy recovery and rehabilitation times associated with invasive procedures,” Dr. Plancher notes. “However, today’s fullyarthroscopic knotless rotator cuff repair allows for the entire procedure to be done with precision through buttonhole-sized incisions,” Dr. Plancher explains. “The fully arthroscopic technique presents less risk of injury to surrounding muscle and tissue, promotes faster healing and rehabilitation, and is as effective as open repair at relieving pain and restoring range of motion,” adds Dr. Plancher.

<< Return to Previous Page