Overview

In the United States, more than 300,000 knee replacement operations are performed every year. People generally have a joint replacement because of severe arthritis pain. The operation eliminates their pain, restores mobility and allows people to get back to activities they may have been forced to give up.

Most people who have a knee replacement have advanced osteoarthritis (OA), which is the form of arthritis characterized by wear and tear in the joint. Articular cartilage is the smooth substance that lines the ends of bones, guiding movement and cushioning the joint. Arthritis causes damage to the articular cartilage, and when it is severe, people can develop painful bone-on-bone arthritis.

OA can be treated conservatively with strategies such as physical therapy and pain medication. But when arthritis is advanced and the pain is unrelenting, the best way to eliminate the problem once and for all is with a total knee replacement. When this surgery is performed, the arthritic surfaces in the knee are replaced with an implant made of metal and strong plastic.

Knee Replacement

Knee replacement is a highly successful operation, and advances over the past five or 10 years have been advantageous to patients. Newer techniques such as minimally invasive knee replacement, partial knee replacement and improved implant designs have given many patients a new lease on life.

Many golfers with knee arthritis can continue to play if they take certain precautions.

Golfers who opt for a knee replacement will generally be able to resume the activity after surgery. In fact, some golf aficionados go out on the course during the days leading up to the operation.

Once they have a knee replacement, they can generally resume golf about 18 weeks after the surgery. Some return to the game faster, while for others, rehabilitation takes longer. Whatever the case, a golfer must always get the go-ahead from his orthopedic surgeon before returning to the course.

Golfers who have a knee replacement will likely be able to enjoy their sport for a longer period of time than if they suffer from arthritis and do not have a joint replacement. Most golfers feel that their handicap and driving distance improved or stayed the same following the surgery. Fairway woods tend to feel easier, while sand traps can become more challenging, but practicing these shots will improve one's overall outcome with time.

Precautions

Precautions are the same for a golfer whether he or she suffers from knee arthritis or has had a joint replacement.

  • Golfers should use pain as their guide. If something hurts, they should not do it.

  • Right-handed golfers with left knee arthritis or who have had a left knee replaced need to use extra caution because their lead leg will take on greater rotational force when they swing their club.

  • If returning to golf after knee replacement, make sure you receive clearance from your orthopedic surgeon to resume golf activities.

  • Use a golf cart between holes, but see what you can handle. Golfers' ability to walk distances will vary, and pain should be the deciding factor on whether you walk or use the cart.

  • Be careful not to overdo it. This can cause swelling and pain.

  • It is important to be cautious of slick surfaces, wet and soft grounds, and getting in and out of bunkers to minimize the risk of a fall and increased pressure on the knee.

  • Use ice following a round of golf to minimize swelling and pain.

Adjustments on the Golf Course following Total Knee Replacement

  • Start off with short shots: chipping and putting until you feel more comfortable and confident in what your body can handle. Be aware of how you are feeling.

  • If you experience some discomfort with the swing, make half or three-quarter swings, and limit the amount of time you play.

  • When practicing the long shot, gradually increase the amount of swings you take. Start with 10 and gradually increase the number, always watching for pain and swelling.

  • Use a golf cart when initially returning to the game, and slowly progress to include more walking between holes. This can depend on the golf course, since some courses are much more uneven than others. Map out a plan prior to teeing off.

  • Slightly turning the feet outward when swinging will reduce the amount a golfer pivots, putting less strain on the knees.

  • Maintaining a more upright stance will reduce the amount the knee bends when swinging the club.

  • Using short irons will reduce stress to the knees.

  • If you wear spikes, use soft-spike golf shoes to reduce the rotational forces on the knee.

  • Apply ice to the knee at the conclusion of your round.

Adjustments on the Golf Course for Golfers with Osteoarthritis

  • Minimize stiffness and maintain strength by performing gentle stretching and low level resistance exercise before and after the round.

  • Be sure to stop playing if any pain develops.

  • Osteoarthritis occurs more often with senior golfers, so consider lighter clubs that have flexible shafts to minimize stress on the knee.

  • Using longer clubs will allow you to loft the ball easier, but this should be determined on a case by case basis, making sure that it does not alter the swing too much.

  • Staying as close to a classic golf swing as possible will reduce the risk of injury.