Can golfing and arthritis mix? Yes!
Fortunately, there are a variety of things you can do — from choosing gear to exercises to changing grip — to keep on playing golf without extra pain and stiffness.
1. Protect your joints
Range of motion and strengthening exercises, done daily or several times a week, can help protect your joints. Here's what Cynthia Roberts, an Arthritis Society Canada physiotherapist in Burlington, Ontario, suggests.
For range of motion exercises, make slow, controlled movements, and repeat each 5-10 times.
- Hands: Curl your fingertips to the tops of your palms, then keep bending them all the way in to make a full fist, then open your hand.
- Wrists: Extend your arm. Bend your wrists so your fingers are pointing up, then bend your wrists so your fingers are pointing down.
- Shoulders: Reach one arm across your chest like you're trying to pat yourself on the back. Then repeat with the other arm.
- Back: Bend your knees slightly. Turn your shoulders to one side, then the other.
- Hips: Holding on to the wall or your club, lift up one foot until your knee is at hip level, then put it back down. Then do the other foot.
For strengthening exercises, good options include pelvic tilts, partial squats, wrist curls and shoulder rotations — talk to a physiotherapist about what's right for you.
2. Warm up
"Get circulation going and lubricate your joints with a 10-minute warmup before you play," says Roberts. Go for a walk or walk on the spot for a few minutes, then do some (or all) of your range of motion exercises. "Then I recommend you make your way to the practice range and do some small swings — a 50% swing to start, and then build up towards a 75% swing."
3. Get a good grip
"I think the biggest thing that we see with people with arthritis is the gripping of the golf club," notes Gareth Raflewski, a renowned golf coach in London, Ontario who works with LPGA and PGA players. "The tendency is to want to grip it tighter, which puts a lot more pressure into your forearms, into your elbows, into your shoulders, and ultimately into your body." To counter this, use a bigger, softer grip, available at sporting goods stores or the pro shop, or wrap the existing grip with athletic tape (such as tennis racquet tape) to build it up. Wearing padded golf gloves also helps you put less force on your hand and wrist joints.
4. Gear up properly
"A lighter shaft, like a graphite shaft, is going to be really helpful," says Raflewski. As well, a hybrid club, which has a slightly bigger head and a very flat bottom, is also worth considering, he says, because if you swing and hit the ground with a hybrid club, it tends to slide along the ground, minimizing impact, compared to an iron which is more likely to dig into the ground and jar you. Plus, he says, there's nothing wrong with using a tee. "Put everything on a tee, even if it's short shot, if you really struggle with that ground contact." To further lessen jarring, try a softer golf ball labelled "low compression."
Roberts recommends good walking shoes with cushioning and arch support, to reduce strain on your knees, hips and lower back. As well, she says, a wrist brace or thumb brace can be useful to stabilize and reduce the strain on your smaller joints during your swing.
5. Cool down
Stretch when your game is over, advises Roberts. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and do two to three repetitions.
Some good ones:
- Forearms: Grasp one hand with your other hand and gently pull the wrist backward until you feel a pull along the forearm, and then bend your wrist forwards as well to get the pull on the opposite side of the forearm.
- Back: Use both hands to lift your golf club over your head, shoulder width apart. Lean your body to one side, then repeat on the other side.
- Calves: Hold onto a wall or your cart for balance, step one foot back, heel on the ground and knee straight, lunging gently forward so you feel a pull in the calf muscle. Repeat on the other side.
6. Scale back
Look for ways to adjust your game as needed. That may mean playing nine holes rather than 18, opting for a motorized golf cart instead of walking, carrying fewer clubs or using an electric caddy. Pushing your golf bag is better than pulling it, says Roberts.
7. Talk to a pro
It's all too easy to fall into bad habits that can affect your body and your golf game. Check in with a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to get ideas about specific stretches and movements to accommodate your form of arthritis, as well as with a golf coach to correct and improve your stance, grip or swing.
"Make sure that you're transferring your weight from one foot to the other as you complete your swing. That's going to help to lessen the impact on your joints," says Roberts.
It's all about making smart choices to continue to enjoy your golf game!