BEND, OR – It is estimated that about 29 million Americans hit the links for at least one round of golf each year. That is 1 in 10 people in the U.S., according to the National Golf Foundation. But while golf is often considered a safe, low-impact, leisurely activity for people of all ages and abilities, that impression vastly underestimates the impact golf has on the body, says Bend physical therapist (PT) and Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Certified Golf Fitness Instructor Chris Cooper.

From sudden, acute injuries due to faulty movement ability or the lack of awareness with bending and lifting mechanics to the development of long-term, overuse injuries caused by excessive play, lack of flexibility or poor swing mechanics, a round of golf can turn from leisurely to debilitating without proper training and conditioning, Cooper says.

“People love to play golf because it’s challenging and competitive while, for the most part, remaining accessible based on age and fitness level,” says Cooper, who has been a PT for 20 years and works at Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy – Athletic Club of Bend. “But there’s no denying that golf as a sport is associated with a significant number of injuries each year – conditions that can keep you off the course while also affecting other aspects of your life.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 131,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices and other clinics for golf-related injuries in 2015 alone. The most common injuries affected golfers’ backs, shoulders and elbows.

“The most common golf injuries tend to happen either when a golfer fails to prepare for the rigors of 18 holes or are not physically conditioned to play multiple rounds a week,” says Cooper, “they can get into trouble from playing and practicing too much – without proper rest – which can lead to overuse injuries like back pain or tennis/golfer’s elbow.”

Studies by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) have shown that both are real issues within the golf community. For instance, AOSSM says that more than 80 percent of golfers spend less than 10 minutes warming up before a round. At the same time, about 44 percent of all reported golf injuries in youths are from overuse.

“These injuries are usually preventable, and the first step is realizing that golf is a ballistic power sport, not just a leisure activity,” says Cooper. “you can’t pick up the driver and start swinging without potential consequences. To lessen the chances of injury and to improve your performance you have to get your body in shape for golf – both before the season and before a particular round – and you have to know when to rest. You need to know where to be flexible and know where to be strong. Being screened by a TPI Certified Professional is a good start to know where your bodily limitations exist and how they can negatively affect your swing.”

According to Cooper, preventing golf injuries requires the following:

Proper Mechanics: Your swing is not just important for accuracy and length. Proper swing mechanic instruction keeps you from placing too much strain on your back, elbows, and shoulders by creating efficient movement and transfer of energy through your entire kinetic chain, from your feet to your hands.

Professional Advice: A golf pro can help you with your swing mechanics and proper club fitting and a TPI Certified physical therapist can ensure your body is up for the rigors of performing these mechanics through a round of golf. A full physical assessment from a TPI Certified PT can help a golfer identify imbalances in strength/stability and flexibility/mobility, from which that PT can provide a plan toward addressing specific limitations with an eye toward injury prevention as well as improving performance.

A Warmup Routine:
If you are one of the 80 percent of golfers who spend less than 10 minutes warming up, you will be more prone to injury. Instead, develop a regular and reliable dynamic (movement based NOT static stretching) warm-up routine for use prior to each round or practice session that promotes movement awareness, proper timing and rhythm, balance and activation of your decelerators that gradually works your body up to swinging the driver.