In The Swing
Proper conditioning can keep you healthy on the course or the
If you think golf is anything but a demanding and intensely
physical sport, Johnny C. Benjamin, M.D., will set you
Benjamin is a spine surgeon in Indian River County, Fla., home of
19 golf courses dotted with swaying palm trees and sparkling sand
traps. Benjamin estimates that half his patients are golfers. They
come to him complaining of lower back, shoulder and arm injuries
they've suffered on the fairway. He also sees tennis players with
aching backs, tender wrists and painful inner elbows.
A golfer himself, the surgeon says most tennis and golf-related
injuries occur because players don't adequately train and then
overdo it on the course or court.
"You have to look at them both as sports," says Benjamin, chairman
of the orthopedics department at Indian River Medical Center in
Vero Beach. "It sounds absurd to say, 'Hey, do you want to run five
miles today?' But is it any less absurd to say, 'You want to play
golf today? I've got a tee time,'?"
Get in Good Form
Smart sports enthusiasts use both cardio and strength training to
prepare their bodies for competition. Golfers are more likely than
tennis players to ignore that advice, perhaps because golf-thanks
to golf carts and the sport's popularity among retirees-is
perceived as less strenuous.
Not any more, Benjamin says. "Golf used to be the 'fat guy's'
sport, but Tiger [Woods] has brought a new level of fitness to the
game. He has a lot of core strength. He has broad shoulders. And he
runs miles. He trains like a high-caliber athlete." That
preparation has paid off handsomely for Woods, who's won more than
his share of PGA tournaments.
Golfers trying to emulate Woods tend to swing too vigorously,
spraining or straining the muscles in their backs and arms. They're
also prone to injuries from lifting and lugging overloaded golf
Gripping the racquet too tightly is to blame for many tennis
injuries to the elbow and arm. Rotator cuff damage can result from
aggressive swinging, while the hamstrings, knees and feet also take
a beating on the court.
Be a Good Sport
To prevent sports-related injuries, follow Woods' lead and prepare
for the demands of your sport. "If you can't walk a mile or two
without anything hurting, you shouldn't think about any activity
until you can," says Benjamin, who keeps in shape by lifting
Instead of driving to your next tennis match, pick a court within
walking distance. Play a round of golf without your golf cart-but
first make sure your bag weighs less than 10 pounds and has
backpack like straps or wheels, Benjamin cautions.
Also, take it easy. You're playing mixed doubles with friends, not
squaring off against Venus and Serena Williams.
If you're plagued by recurring pain or injury, consult a doctor and
a golf or tennis pro. A professional instructor can pinpoint
seemingly minor errors in your grip or swing that can cause major
damage to your muscles and tendons.
And remember, no matter how much you love playing a sport, it is
only recreation. "I try to explain to people that golf is to be
enjoyed," Benjamin says. "For most people, it's not our day job."
On the Mend with Massage
Even if you concentrate on conditioning, sometimes injuries do
happen. When they do, spine surgeon Johnny C. Benjamin recommends
applying ice to any strain or sprain during the first 72 hours,
then switch to a moist heating pad. Nonprescription medicine can
help control pain. And a sports massage will
"Massage therapy is great in helping to bring blood and nutrients
to the affected area to repair the soft tissue," he says. "Ideally,
you should get a massage as soon as you can tolerate it. Massage therapy also
can help break up scar tissue and keep the muscles supple so less
scar tissue develops in the first place."
Even when there's no injury, massage also helps athletes of all
levels improve their flexibility and muscle suppleness. The
kneading action of a massage disperses the accumulation of lactic
acid, which causes fatigued, sore muscles.
When you book your massage, request a therapist experienced in
sports massage, and ask that special attention be paid to any
injured areas, says Maureen Moon, former president of the American
Massage Therapy Association.
A Massage Therapist can also stretch the muscles in trouble areas,
promoting increased flexibility when the body is warm and more