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Don't let osteoarthritis become your golf handicap

Our hobbies and pastimes play a major part in our life – helping to keep our bodies fit and our minds active.

But, as we age, we can develop conditions such as osteoarthritis which threaten our ability to continue playing - even with non-contact sports such as tennis, badminton or golf.

Trevor Lawrence, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull, Birmingham West Midlands, is a keen golfer who says that there are options for people suffering with osteoarthritis that can help them stay out on the fairways.

"At my own golf club, some of my fellow players have also become my patients when they began to suffer the typical symptoms of osteoarthritis when the cartilage in joints wears away, causing pain in the wrist, knees or hips," he explained.

But it certainly does not mean having to hang up your golf bag!

"Often golfers notice the signs of arthritis before those who don’t play the game do," Mr Lawrence said.

For example:

  • "They might struggle bending down to pick up the ball or fully follow through with their swing because of pain in their hips and knees."
  • "If they have arthritis in their fingers, gripping the club firmly becomes an issue, while degeneration in the wrist can cause problems with ‘cocking the wrist’ before striking the ball."
  • "There will also be problems actually managing to complete a full round because of pain in either the knee or hips or sometimes in both."
  • "In a typical round of golf players walk about five miles – in some cases the pain will start kicking in around the thirteenth or fourteenth hole so they find they either can’t play their shots properly for the rest of the game or they simply cannot walk the rest of the course."

When a fellow golfer suffering with osteoarthritis presents at Mr Lawrence’s clinic, he tries to provide hope that they can still carry on with the game they love by making minor changes in the way they actually play the game.

"Sometimes players can successfully learn to adapt their swing, although this can be difficult – but they can always make smaller changes," he explained.

"Make sure you warm up before actually stepping up to the first tee. Stretch the hamstrings, loosen the shoulders and flex the groin area to warm up the muscles. A few minutes of gentle twisting and bending activity will ease some of the stiffness."

"Golfers with osteoarthritis can also try adapting their gear. The world’s top players usually have clubs with very stiff shafts but players with painful joints need to use clubs that are more flexible and less rigid."

"If you are thinking of changing your clubs, your golf professional should be able to offer you some good advice.  For example a club shaft with more ‘whip’ will make both hitting and getting the ball into the air that bit easier. Selecting a more lightweight graphite club will also help."

Mr Lawrence also pointed to the availability of oversized ‘thicker’ grips that can be fitted to all club handles. This will mean you don’t have to close your hands as tightly around the handle, thus taking pressure off arthritic fingers.

And for the golfers struggling to get round the course Mr Lawrence says: "Try cutting the weight of your golf bag by taking out anything you don’t think you’ll need. People insist on carrying the full amount of golf clubs when, in most cases, they will only use half of them during that round."

"If you presently carry your bag, look at investing in a trolley – or better still and electric trolley  as it will mean much less strain on your shoulder and back joints."

"I realise that many players aren’t keen on hiring a buggy as they think it takes away from the ‘exercise’ part of the game but at least it means you are out there still playing. If in the long term you do need surgery in order to continue playing then at least your time using a buggy means your swing won’t be quite as rusty when you get back onto the course."

Simple lifestyle changes such as losing weight to reduce the pressure on joints can help ease some of the pain of osteoarthritis.

"A golf swing puts a lot of force through the hip and the knee particularly, both areas where osteoarthritis typically appears," said Mr Lawrence.

"It means that in some cases players do eventually have to undergo knee or hip replacement surgery as the pain, even with medication, becomes too much. But the upside is they can return to enjoying their golf for many years to come."

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