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As the largest joint in the body, the knee is vital not only to your golf game but also to your daily life. While the knees are built to withstand all kinds of stresses, one wrong move can cause serious damage. Knee injuries aren’t common in golf, but they do occur, and engaging in the sport may aggravate existing knee problems. The good news is that you can take measures to protect your knees from any strain related to golf.
First, it helps to understand the basic anatomy of the knee. Three bones meet to form the knee joint: the thigh bone (femur), shin bone (tibia) and kneecap (patella). The kneecap sits in front of the joint and provides protection.
Several muscles are critical to knee function. The two most important are the quadriceps, located in the front of the thigh, and the hamstrings, in the back of the thigh. The quadriceps are called into action when we want to straighten our knee (called knee extension), while the hamstring muscles enable us to bend our knee (knee flexion). During golf, muscles across the knees and hips are used to generate forces from the ground up and deliver rotational power to your swing.
There are also several ligaments that connect the thigh bone to the shin bone to stabilize the joint, including the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament and lateral collateral ligament. The ACL and PCL cross each other within the joint to keep the shin bone in place, controlling its forward and backward motion. The collateral ligaments run down each side of the knee, controlling side-to-side movement and stabilizing the knee. If you’ve had an injury to any of these structures, you may benefit from some modifications to your golf game to keep yourself pain free.
If you’ve had a knee replacement, or if you’re dealing with osteoarthritis of the knee, a few straightforward adjustments will allow you to keep playing with less pain. The primary rule? Use pain as your guide. If it hurts, don’t do it. Also be sure to check with your doctor if you’re returning to the game following a knee replacement surgery. Other tips:
For golfers with an injury to the ACL or the meniscus, which is a disc of cartilage between the shin bone and thigh bone that cushions the joint, additional precautions can also help prevent pain, swelling and stiffness after your round.
The effect on your golf swing is likely to be most significant if the ACL tear is in your lead leg (your left knee for a right-handed swing; right knee for a left-handed swing). As with other knee-related issues, maintaining the strength of your core, hip and thigh muscles, especially on the leading leg, will help control rotation and shear forces around the knee. If your knee is still swollen or has a limited range of motion, avoid prolonged playing or walking. Gradually increase in both time on the leg as well as number of swings (this is known as a functional progression). In addition:
If you have had meniscus surgery, consider the intensity of your play, your body mechanics and the benefit of targeted exercises prior to returning to the game to decrease your risk of any issues. Be sure you are fully recovered from your injury and get the OK from your physician before you return to golf. Other tips:
In addition to the tips above, don’t let your knees roll inward in your golf stance. Keep your buttocks back as if sitting into a chair so that your knees don't go further forward than your toes.
Managing playing volume is a critical factor in avoiding overuse injuries or preventing flare-ups when returning to golf after knee surgeries. Hitting many balls when practicing and playing on multiple consecutive days can potentially lead to overload. Make sure to build in proper rest and avoid doing too much too fast.
And of course, if you feel like you may have injured your knee during the game or if you start to have pain, stop playing immediately. If the problem persists, see a doctor.