Avoiding Shoulder Injuries In Golf

Dr LuBy: Michael T. Lu, MD

The shoulder is one of the most commonly injured sites in golfers, after the elbow, wrist, and low back. Imagine swinging a club with a painful shoulder. It’s easy to see how important the shoulder is to the golf swing.

Shoulder problems in golf are commonly overuse injuries, but traumatic injuries do occur. Injuries to muscles and tendons, the tissues that attach muscles to bones, range from minor strains to complete tears. Strains occur when the muscle or tendon is pulled but does not completely tear.

The rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder and their tendons are very active throughout the golf swing. Inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons, or tendinitis, and even tears of the rotator cuff can occur with overuse or poor swing mechanics. Proper technique is a first step in preventing injury, so consider lessons from a golf instructor.

With shoulder problems, it is important to consider the age and mechanics of each golfer. Injuries usually occur in the lead arm but can occur in the trailing arm as well. Younger golfers (less than 35 years old) are more likely to have problems with inflammation and strains, while older golfers may experience complete tears of the rotator cuff and degenerative changes in the joint, such as bone spur formation.

Initially, injured golfers should be treated with a decrease in playing time, ice, physical therapy, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. If pain continues, further diagnosis and treatment may be required, possibly including injections into the shoulder, x-rays or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, a test that shows the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. If patients continue to have pain and dysfunction after a thorough treatment program, surgery may be necessary.

Shoulder problems in golfers can usually be avoided with lessons and warm-up exercises. However, if pain does not lessen within 7 to 10 days, you should see your physician for an evaluation. A delay in diagnosis and treatment can lead to further damage and the need for more involved treatment, such as surgery. A delay could keep you off the links for a while, and that’s something every golfer wants to avoid.

Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lu is a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and specializes in general orthopedics, with emphasis on all aspects of shoulder and elbow surgery, including fracture care, joint replacement and arthroscopic surgery. He has an office in Woodbridge and is a member of the Human Motion Institute at Raritan Bay Medical Center. To make an appointment, call 855.5.MOTION.

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