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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cold Weather Golf Injuries - Dr. Ryan York's Advice

Dr. Ryan York
I met Dr. Ryan York when I was asked to review his book, Age Defying Golf.  Since I'm a woman of a certain age, I was drawn to a book about golf by a physical therapist who promised to help me keep on playing through my 70s, into my 80s and, I hope, my 90s.  Dr. York did not disappoint.  When winter weather arrived (albeit, a bit later in South Carolina than elsewhere) I started following his advice and simultaneously realized that other golfers might benefit from his wisdom, insights, and advice.  Dr. York has been generous enough to provide this guest column.  I hope you find the information as useful as I have.  
Elizabeth Bethel

Common Cold Weather Golf Injuries and Solutions

In our clinic, we see a dramatic spike in golf related injuries every winter. Injuries related to cold weather are often severe and recovery from them can take several months.  I am going to help you stay safe in the cold so you can be ready for fun once the sun comes out this Spring.

In the winter, we see an increase in strained muscles, hand fractures, as well as a fair share of golfers over 55 who we send to the ER for dehydration.

cold weather golf

1. Muscle Strains and Golf

The term "muscle strain" seems pretty harmless but there are different severities of a muscle strain. A muscle strain is actually a torn muscle. How severe a muscle strain is, is determined by how badly the muscle is torn. Depending on the severity, muscle strains can takes months and even years to heal.

When I was younger, I remember playing center field in a baseball game and making a throw that strained a muscle in my back. I was out of sports for only a month, but I had pain swinging the golf club for another 6 long years. So muscle strains are not something to take lightly or ignore.

Muscle strains occur more frequently in the winter because a muscle that is cold is a muscle that is stiff. Swing a golf club at 90 miles per hour with a stiff muscle and you are running a high risk of tearing that muscle. Here is the kicker: Stretching before you play golf will not help and may even place you at a higher risk of tearing a muscle. Let me write that again so that it is clear:
Stretching your muscles before you play golf can increase the likelihood that you will tear a muscle.
The key to minimizing your risk of a muscle tear is to warm up the muscle. A cold muscle that is stretched, is still a cold muscle.

The Rubber Band Take a rubber band for example. If you have a cold rubber band, you can stretch it all you want, but if you suddenly and quickly pull the rubber band apart, it will break. Compare that to a rubber band that is warm. The same is true with your body. The golf swing is a fast and somewhat violent action on your muscles. If they are cold, they might tear.

The Golf Warm Up Instead, go through a 5 minute warm up first. Notice that we do not hold any position for longer than 3 seconds. It is movement in a full range of motion instead of a static hold stretch. And don't forget to keep moving throughout your round of golf. Try not to sit in the cart and allow your muscles to cool back down.

2. Wrist Injuries

Golf injuriesThe reason that we see so many wrist injuries in the winter is because the turf is cold and hard. Instead of taking a nice shallow divot in warm turf, the golf club bounces off the turf like concrete. This sends a lot of force up the club shaft and into your hand. The bone in your hand that takes the force and is often fractured is the Hamate. This can be a nasty injury!

Best case scenario is that you are in a cast for 6 weeks. However, some report that the bone does not heal as much as 50% of the time and will need surgery.

The lesson here is that if you are playing in very cold conditions, you should focus on "picking" the ball clean. Avoid, steep swings and deep divots. If you have osteoporosis (fragile bones) be very careful. You may want to skip the really cold days and try out your new local indoor golf simulators instead.

3. Dehydration

This tip is for the golfers over 55, and the older you are, the higher your risk. You are at a higher risk of dehydration in the winter for 2 reasons:
  1. Your body uses up more fluids in the winter to keep you warm
  2. You will not feel as thirsty in cold weather.
The hormones that regulate your feeling of thirst are located near the core of your body. In cold weather, your body restricts flood flow to your hands and feet and keeps it in your core. Since your body signals you to be thirsty based on fluid only in your core, it does not detect dehydration since your body sends all of the fluid to the core when you are cold. So you won't feel thirsty even though your body is very thirsty. Focus on drinking more fluids in the winter.

Bonus Tip: Although not related to the body, I found this next tip pretty interesting and helpful: keep your golf balls indoors the day before you play so they stay warm. It takes approximately 10 hours for the outdoor temperature to change the temperature of the core of a golf ball. A warm golf ball is much more response and will travel a lot further.

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Ryan York, DPT CGS Age Defying Golf