With warm weather and blue skies dominating the forecast, Chicagoans are continuing to find socially-distant ways to enjoy the outdoors this summer. Chicago recently entered Phase IV of reopening, bringing with it newly opened parks and outdoor recreational venues like tennis courts, softball fields and golf courses.

These sports may seem like relatively low-intensity bouts of exercise, but as we get older, each of these rotational sports requires more baseline fitness to prevent injury. In this blog post, we will go over common injuries for golfers and other recreational athletes, along with some stretches and exercises to ensure we are ready to “go low.”

The game of golf requires many different combinations of strength and flexibility, including pelvic stability, thoracic rotation, lumbar to pelvic disassociation, trunk and shoulder mobility, hip rotation and core strength. Common injuries related to golf include low back pain, elbow injuries and knee pain.

Low Back Pain

Starting with the most common injury complaint among golfers: low back pain. The incidence of golf-related low back pain ranges from 15% to 34% among amateur golfers and 22% to 24% among professional golfers. 1 A major role in the incidence of low back pain is the lack of core stability during the golf swing, lack of warmup prior to a round, loss of posture during the swing and inadequate hip rotation during the swing. While golf is seen by many as a leisure sport, professional golfers are now strength training more than ever to combat sport-related injuries.

Below are two stretches and two exercises to help alleviate low back pain:

Knee to Chest While Walking

Knee To Chest Walking Stretch Demonstration

Standing Quadriceps Stretch

Quad Stretch Demonstration

Pelvic Tilts

Pelvic tilt demonstration
Pelvic tilt demonstration
Pelvic tilt demonstration
  • Lay on back with knees bent, feet flat on ground
  • Place hands on hips
  • Draw belly button towards spine and flatten back onto mat
  • Hold 2-3 seconds
  • Reset

Prone Press-Ups

Prone Press Up Demonstration
Prone Press Up Demonstration
  • Lay face down
  • Place hands on mat by shoulders
  • Press into ground and begin to straighten elbows
  • Keep glutes relaxed as chest lifts off mat

Elbow Injuries

Elbow injuries are common in golf and tennis. Medial epicondylitis (also known as Golfer’s elbow, Little Leaguer’s elbow or Thrower’s elbow) is an injury occurring at the inner aspect of your elbow, while Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) is an injury occurring at the outer aspect of your elbow.

tennis elbow
Golfers elbow

Medial epicondylitis occurs when we “chunk” shots, hitting too much of the grass or sand during our swing, whereas Lateral epicondylitis occurs when we use too much of our right hand for right handed golfers. Elbow injuries most commonly occur from a lack of upper back rotation (thoracic rotation), decreased shoulder mobility and poor shoulder blade (scapular) stability.

The stretches and exercise below will assist with the mobility needed for elbow injury prevention:

Wrist extensor stretch

Wrist extensor demonstration
  • Lift arm in front of chest palm down
  • Take other hand and gently press hand down bending at wrist

Wrist flexor stretch

Wrist flexor demonstration
  • Lift arm in front of chest, palm up
  • Take other hand and gently press hand down bending at wrist

Press-Up Plus

Press up plus demonstration
Press up plus demonstration
  • Start at top of push-up position
  • Keep elbows straight while squeezing shoulder blades together
  • Push shoulder blades apart rounding the upper back

Knee Pain

A 2011 study on 504 individuals over the age of 50 revealed that 46.2% reported having knee pain.2 In a golf swing, a lack of hip and/or trunk rotation, pelvic stability and “over-swinging” can result in injuries to the knee — most commonly, a meniscus tear. Formerly known as “tearing your cartilage,” a meniscus tear occurs when the body is rotated over a bent knee over a planted foot. The risk of injury increases as our trunk and hip rotation decreases, compensating by having our lead knee bend in during the backswing and bend out and rotate forcefully during our downswing and follow-through. Force can be taken off the knee by improving our hip and trunk rotation, core stability and increasing our gluteal strength.

Golf swing demonstration
Golf swing demonstration

If you are experiencing knee pain or are looking to improve your rotation, core stability and gluteal strength, check out the exercises below:

Hip abduction

Hip Abduction Demonstration
Hip Abduction Demonstration
  • Lay on side
  • Straighten top leg, bend bottom leg
  • Lift top leg
  • Keep toes pointed down towards ground

Book openers

Book opener demonstration
Book Opener Demonstration
  • Lay on side, knees stacked and bent
  • Stack arms in front of face
  • Slowly open top arm towards sky, following hand with eyes
  • Rotate chest open

Lateral step downs

Lateral Step Down Demonstration
Lateral Step Down Demonstration
  • Stand on box or step with one foot
  • Keep weight through heel of standing leg as you tap other heel onto ground
  • As the knee bends make sure to keep knee in line with middle toes

Hamstring stretch

Hamstring stretch demonstration
Hamstring stretch demonstration
  • Lay on back
  • Lift one leg towards face using strap or towel as assistance
  • Try to keep knee straight of lifted leg
  • Hold for 30-60 seconds

1. McHardy AJ, Pollard HP, Luo K. Golf-related lower back injuries: an epidemiological survey. J Chiropr Med. 2007;6(1):20-26. doi:10.1016/j.jcme.2007.02.010

2. Nguyen US, Zhang Y, Zhu Y, Niu J, Zhang B, Felson DT. Increasing prevalence of knee pain and symptomatic knee osteoarthritis: survey and cohort data. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(11):725-732.

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Post written by FFC Contributor and NovaCare Gold Coast Physical Therapist Casey Gray.

Casey Gray is a physical therapist at NovaCare Rehabilitation inside FFC Gold Coast. He enjoys using his outgoing personality and positive attitude to optimize treatment of the entire individual. Casey recently graduated with his doctorate of physical therapy from University of Saint Mary, located outside of Kansas City, Kansas. Casey enjoys playing and watching sports like basketball, football, baseball, and golf.