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Injuries in any sport should be approached with caution, and golf is no exception. Golfers are generally more prone to get hurt than you may think, and more likely to experience injuries than baseball players and rugby players. Given the nature of contact sports, it might come as a surprise that golf is such a high injury sport.
Nearly 70% of amateur golfers will sustain some sort of injury over their lifetime, which is an absolutely staggering number. Speaking from experience, there have been a few occasions where I needed to take some time off the course to let my body recover so that I wouldn’t further hurt my wrist. Wrist injuries account for at least 10% of golf related injuries, with other leading injuries being back, knee, and elbow injuries.
Let’s take a look at what causes wrist injuries when playing golf, how to prevent them, and what to do when you’re dealing with one.
There are a few things that could lead to wrist injuries in golf, however they’re a bit different for the average amateur vs the average pro or scratch player.
For an amateur, poor form is the leading cause of all golf injuries, which isn’t hard to understand. If you hit the ground too hard, the shock and impact that gets absorbed in your wrist is a lot to handle, and can quickly lead to trauma. My wrist hurts just writing this, because I’ve definitely been here on more than one occasion.
Zach (The DIY Golfer): Like Brandon, I too have developed injuries as a result of poor form. At one point in time, I spent hours trying to get my left wrist flat at the top of my golf swing. I had not yet learned that the wrist position at the top is dictated by the grip, so I tried to force my wrist flat despite my strong grip. As a result of this and repeated shots off of hard range mats, I developed a wrist injury that sent me to physical therapy for 5 months. The lesson here? If a golf position is painful, STOP trying to get into it.
This is a common injury that professional golfers or scratch players will come across, but it can happen at any level. Competitive golfers are hitting a much higher volume of golf balls than a recreational player, and that high volume can lead to tendonitis in the wrist. Tendonitis is the swelling of tissue that connects the bone and muscle in the wrist; tendonitis is the direct result of repetitive stress on your tendons, which makes sense in relation to playing golf.
While competitive players are more susceptible, amateur players that come back to playing golf after long breaks are certainly at risk here as well.
The hook of the hamate is a carpal bone that is in the palm, close to the wrist. In golf, this bone can be fractured during a harsh impact, as the bone rests on the handle of the club and the force originally directed through the golf shaft is redirected into the hamate bone at impact. This injury is rare, but can happen.
Zach (The DIY Golfer): Do not push it with these injuries. There are 8 small “carpal” bones in the wrist (hamate being one) that can fracture without the severe pain you would normally associate with a fractured bone. Specifically, the “scaphoid” bone is the most common carpal bone to become fractured, and without an x-ray, you may never know that it is fractured. This is not something to worry about; just make sure to get your wrist checked out if you experience prolonged, acute pain while playing golf.
Unless you’ve experienced a wrist injury, it is not something you actively think about preventing. That said, an injured wrist will take you away from playing golf, and given the small size of wrist bones/tendons, it can take you away from the game much longer than you would expect. There are a few easy things that any golfer can do to minimize the possibility of getting a wrist injury while playing.
I’m a huge advocate for incorporating golf workouts into your routine, because additional strength and flexibility can directly improve your performance on the course. When it comes to preventing a wrist injury, you’ll want to focus on increasing your forearm and wrist strength.
Here are a few quick exercises you can do:
This is a popular wrist exercise that’s used across several sports that works on wrist, grip and forearm strength. The basic idea here is quite simple, but there are a few variations to add a layer of complexity. You’ll need a medium to large sized bucket, and a big bag of raw rice; you’ll need enough rice to comfortably submerge your hands in, without touching the bottom.
- Fill a bucket (3-5 gallons) with raw, uncooked rice, and place the bucket at waist height
- Stand close to the bucket, so that your hips and abdominals are touching the bucket.
- Lightly brace your forearms against the insides of the bucket, with your palms facing outward
- Dig your hands into the rice; as you go deeper into the rice, you’ll be met with more resistance
- Grab a handful of rice in each hand, and clench. While doing so, rotate your forearms clockwise so that your wrists flip over
- Unclench, and repeat from beginning
This is the basic movement. You can follow steps 1-4, and include: wrist circles, wrist extensions, and more! Feel free to get creative. Here’s a video outlining wrist rotations in a rice bucket:
You’ll feel a lot of tension in your forearm right away with this exercise.
- Extend your arm out in front of you, with your palm facing away from you (like you’re telling someone in front of you to stop)
- Grab your fingertips with your other hand, and pull them back towards you gently, feeling a stretch in your forearm
- Repeat a few times, then repeat with other arm
This is a simple yet effective exercise you can do to build up wrist strength:
- Hold a towel at arms length with both hands
- Wring the towel out as if it was full of water, engaging your forearms and wrists
- Perform for 15-20 second intervals, 2-5 times
This is a relatively common wrist strengthening exercise, which you’ve probably seen before. Make sure you’re using a very light weight when doing these curls to avoid injury.
- With a lightweight dumbbell in hand, extend one arm fully with your palm facing down
- Lower your wrist until it is reasonably extended, then bring it back to the starting position. That is one rep.
- Repeat 10 times, then switch hands. Perform 3 sets per hand
If you don’t do any warm ups before you play golf, you’re not only putting yourself at risk of injury, but you’re likely losing some distance in the first few holes of your round! Incorporating simple wrist warm ups will go a long way in preventing an injury.
I recommend 2 quick warm ups that won’t take more than 2 minutes total:
Wrist flexion: It’s exactly what it sounds like. Flex the wrists up and down, without causing any discomfort, for about 30 seconds per hand. You can do this with a club or without.
Wrist Circles: Also pretty straight forward; move your wrists in circles, without causing discomfort, for about 30 seconds per hand.
Here are a few more quick tips I recommend to help you prevent a wrist injury:
- If coming back from an off season, naturally progress the amount of golf you play, rather than hitting too many golf balls too quickly
- Use a strong grip when gripping the golf club, reducing the risk of having a bowed top wrist at impact
- Favor hitting off grass over mats as often as possible. There is nothing wrong with hitting off mats, but they are much harsher on the wrist.
Despite taking precautions, some will still injure themselves while playing golf. At the first sign of an injury to the wrist, you should stop playing and give your body some time to rest and heal. At first sign of swelling or pain, it’s recommended to use ice to bring down the swelling, and then use heat to help alleviate pain and stiffness.
For your first time back out, it may help to use a compression wrap or wrist brace. If the injury doesn’t heal within a few days, you should see a doctor to determine the precise cause. As mentioned previously, the carpal bones in the wrist are small and injuries to them are difficult to self-diagnose.
I hope this guide helps you out, and as always, thanks for reading!