Get a Grip on your Golf Game
With the golf season in Calgary in full swing, naturally many of us are wanting to get out on the course or onto the driving range to practice our game. With this abrupt increase in activity, sadly our elbows can begin to take the brunt of the force from club impact into the ground or range mat, predisposing them to (unwanted) injury.
When it comes to elbow injuries, there are two main types: Lateral Epicondylitis (sometimes referred to as ‘Tennis Elbow’), and Medial Epicondylitis (sometimes referred to as ‘Golfer’s Elbow’). The colloquial names may be a bit of a misnomer, because in fact you can get pain on the outside of the elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) or inside of the elbow (Medial Epicondylitis) from golf- it doesn’t tend to discriminate!
Lateral Epicondylitis is an overuse injury, more commonly involves the lead arm, and is associated with gripping the club too tightly (note: this doesn’t mean your trailing arm can’t be affected in a similar manner from gripping too tightly!) Not only does gripping the club too tightly overwork the wrist extensors (muscles on the back of the forearm, that attach on the outside of the elbow), but taking a large divot also causes these muscles to be overworked! This combination, as frequently observed in amateur golfers, is a recipe for disaster, as explained by lateral epicondylitis being 5x more frequent in amateur golfers vs professionals! If this sounds like your golf swing, and you have been experiencing pain or discomfort during the golf swing on the outside of your elbow, you may have also noticed that a firm handshake or gripping something tightly (like a briefcase or bag of groceries) may exacerbate your problems!
Medial Epicondylitis is the 2nd most common elbow injury among golfers, and not surprisingly more commonly affects the trailing arm (though again, it can happen with the lead arm!). The etiology is most commonly due to rapid deceleration of the trailing arm at ball impact (think taking a big divot!) This can also be the result of a swing fault known as casting (Where during the downswing the wrist is straightened too soon, causing the forearm muscles to be overly active). If you have been noticing pain or discomfort on the inside of your elbow while golfing, or pain with flexing the wrist this could be what is nagging you. Note- consulting your local golf professional to have your golf swing straightened out is your best bet to correct casting, or other biomechanical errors in the swing that could be contributing to your elbow pain!
…So I have elbow pain- now what?
As always, seeking appropriately medical advice is important (your local Chiropractor is typically more accurate than is Dr. Google). Not only can your health care provider arrive at an appropriate diagnosis, but they can set you off on an appropriate course of treatment. Typically, this includes REST (yes, this means taking a bit of a break from the course and driving range-but your elbows will thank you!), Ice (the more the better!), manual therapy (for me, I find Active Release Technique (ART) to be extremely effective in clearing up elbow issues), and rehabilitation including stretches and strengthening exercises (we want to prevent this from happening again!)
While you are doing your best to rest that injured elbow, you can do a couple of things to make sure you are ready for your return to the game! This includes taking a look at your grips!
Have you changed your grips in the last year( or within last 40 rounds)? If your answer is ‘no’, or ‘I can’t remember’, better speak with your golf professional about changing them. Sweat, oils, heat, etc all work to break down the material of the grip. When a grip breaks down, the grip can become slippery. This means as the grip becomes less grippy, you are forced to subconciously grip tighter (HELLO ELBOW PAIN) in order to hold onto the club. You will know if your grips need replacing by looking at those grips! You will probably see a wear pattern (ie where your thumb rests, or loss in colour of the grip), it may look duller (where it didn’t start that way) And not only can old grips make you grip tighter, then can cause you to lose distance and control off your ball flight! There are 2 pretty convincing reasons to change those grips!
Is your grip the correct size? Sadly, there is no ‘One Size Fits All’ of golf grips. We all have different sized hands, therefore finding the correct size means actually holding a grip before putting it on your clubs! Conventionally, a grip is appropriately sized for your hand if the fingers in the top hand on the golf club barely touch the palm as you grip it-however again, your golf professional is best suited to help you find the grip best suited to your needs.
Take a Lesson! (Once your elbow is not sore anymore!) Remember those swing issues that inadvertently load the elbows more causing elbow pain? There is a reason they are called professionals, so take a lesson from someone who can really help you tweak your swing to make sure that nasty elbow pain doesn’t return- and prevent you from playing with your buddies 4x a week!
And, if those aren’t good enough reasons to get your clubs re-gripped, then hopefully this stat is! 66% of those that had their clubs recently re-gripped took an average of 3-4 strokes off their score per round! 3-4 Strokes! Are you kidding me?! I can’t think of an easier way to lower your scores-and of course keep you pain-free than this!
As always, consult your Chiropractor who can determine your best course of management.