Just because you play in khakis and a polo doesn’t mean you can’t hurt yourself.
Sure, maybe golf isn’t as high-risk as, say, football, soccer, or basketball. You don’t have to run, cut, or jump. Nobody is going to tackle you, step on you, or fall on you. Acute injuries don’t really happen, unless maybe you get struck by an errant tee shot, or somebody runs a golf cart over your foot.
But overuse injuries occur in golf more often than you might think—and not just in the arms and back.
The Feet and Ankles During the Golf Swing
Throughout the swing, the feet and ankles must move and shift weight in ways that can stress weakened and vulnerable muscles, connective tissues, and joint.
Weight should be fairly balanced across the feet as you address the ball, with perhaps slightly more weight on your front leg. However, as you draw the club back, the forward foot pronates (the heel may even lift off the ground), your upper body rotates, and weight transfers smoothly to the back foot. For an ideal swing, about 80% of the weight is on the back foot at the top of the backswing, along the middle or inside of the foot (not the outside).
During the downswing, shoulders and hips rotate forward and the weight shifts rapidly back to the front foot. By the time the club strikes the ball, the pros already have 80% of their weight now on the front foot. By the end of the follow-through, basically all the weight is up front.
Do this over and over and over again—45-65 strokes per round (not including putts), plus practice swings, plus range time—and throw in a few hours of standing and walking around a course. Perhaps it’s not so surprising after all that playing golf can cause chronic pain!
Foot and Ankle Golf Injuries
Some of the most common golf-related lower extremity injuries include:
- Heel pain. This could be the result of improper motion and weight transfer—or it could simply result from spending the better part of four hours on your feet, if you choose not to play with a golf cart. The “scorecard” distance of a typical course is around three and a half to four miles. Add in the extra distance you walk between the last green and next tee, plus zigzagging around each hole, and you might put about seven or so miles on your feet after 18 holes—all while carrying your clubs.
- Ball of foot pain. During the swing, the ball of your front (non-dominant) foot is especially vulnerable to pressure, since it has to pivot forcefully and bear most of your weight immediately before, during, and after impact. As a result, Morton’s neuromas are especially common among avid golfers.
- Lateral ankle pain. The connective tissues supporting the ankle of your back (dominant) foot can stretch and tear if you have too much ankle motion on your follow through. Full-swing long shots (especially tee shots) can be especially stressful. Over time, this not only causes ankle pain, but can leave the joint feeling unstable and wobbly, and make it more susceptible to future sprains.
Tips for Staying Healthy on the Golf Course
If you’re starting to feel strained on the links, you may be able to reduce and prevent the discomfort.
- Know your limits. At least in the short term, you might just not have the conditioning you need to walk 18 holes comfortably. Only playing 9 and/or renting a cart might make the trip a little less arduous. (One word of caution, though—applying the parking brake on the cart repeatedly can actually contribute to extensor tendinitis on the top of the foot. You might want to rotate driving responsibilities with your partner every other hole.)
- Wear good shoes. A comfortable pair of soft-spiked golf shoes is a must. Not only will they help you shoot lower scorers, but by preventing the feet from sliding too much during the swing, they limit unnecessary motion and strain on joints. This reduces your injury risk.
- Orthotics. For some golfers, new shoes might not be enough. If you suffer from certain structural and mechanical problems with your feet, you may need a good pair of insoles to help support, stabilize, and balance your feet throughout the swing. As with good shoes, this not only reduces pain and injury but will probably improve your play, too.
- Bracing. If your ankles are already a little wobbly or you know you put excess motion on the back leg during the swing, it may be advisable to wear an athletic brace on while you play.
Don’t wait until pain is making you miserable to seek help. If you find you aren’t navigating the course quite as smoothly and painlessly as you used to, give us a call. You can book an appointment at either of our two office locations—Gilbert or Chandler—by dialing (480) 963-9000.