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Regardless of the type of pain or its origin, the best golfers are mentally prepared to minimize its impact on their play by (1) recognizing when they need medical treatment and therapy, and by (2) using mental skills to limit their pain’s negative influence on their abilities to concentrate.

Even though it is a non-contact sport, dealing with pain and injury seems to be an inevitable aspect of playing competitive golf. That never-ending challenge to swing the club correctly, which leads players into unnatural physical contortions and over-practice, contributes to the likelihood of pain and injury. Learning to minimize and manage your pain can be one of your more important mental skills for playing your best golf and for maximizing your enjoyment of the game.

In this newsletter, we will briefly identify the most common golfing injuries; describe different types of pain, give you a simple method of measuring your pain and explain how to use this measurement as a tool. We will then describe several simple but effective techniques for reducing the amount of pain you experience and for managing the pain you have.


Common Golf Injuries

Some estimates state that more than half of all touring professionals have sustained some injury requiring them to stop playing for at least three weeks. It is also estimated that all professional golfers, at some time, play with at least moderate levels of distracting pain. This is not a surprise to those who understand the rigors of competitive golf and the continual push to become or remain competitive among a world of great players.

Some estimates state that more than half of all touring professionals have sustained some injury requiring them to stop playing for at least three weeks. It is also estimated that all professional golfers, at some time, play with at least moderate levels of distracting pain. This is not a surprise to those who understand the rigors of competitive golf and the continual push to become or remain competitive among a world of great players.

It has been pointed out by at least one study that the most common cause of injury in professional golfers is considered to be repetitive practice.

Amateurs also experience high levels of pain and injury, not so much from over-use as from faulty swing mechanics and playing while in poor physical condition. Some touring professionals experience pain caused by these two factors as well.

Considering several studies of golfing injuries, the lower back stands out as the most common sight for golfing pain. The second most common sight noted is the left elbow. Wrist injuries follow in ranking order but they seem to be experienced more by the better golfers, low-handicappers and professionals, and women. Along with neck and shoulder pain, there are of course many other injuries and sources of pain experienced by golfers of all levels.

Your perception of pain will influence its impact on your performance. Understanding individual perceptions and becoming familiar with the four major types of pain will get you started toward effectively managing your own pain.


Perceptions of Pain

Playing with Golf Injury

Understanding golf injuries and learning to manage pain can be one of your more important mental skills for playing your best golf.

Numerous physical, emotional and psychological issues influence how we experience our pain. One important mental factor involves how we perceive our pain. If we dread, fear or worry about our pain, we are likely to increase tension and emotions that can make the pain worse, partially by aggravating the parasympathetic nervous system and increasing body tension. Feeling anger about the pain can mentally and physically inhibit recovery by wasting mental and physical energy. Allowing yourself to feel depressed about the pain renders you non-productive in assisting with your own healing, partially by reducing concentration, motivation and confidence. It is very important that you change your perception of your pain both for healing and for maximizing your ability to play with pain. Following are suggestions.

  1. See your pain as one more challenge. Rather than give into the usual reactions to pain, such as “why me”, “how can I play with this”, “I’ve worked so hard, this isn’t fair” or other frustrations, challenge yourself to see your pain as just one more hurdle in your effort to keep your mental game strong. It’s easy to let the pain control your mood and thoughts; it’s a challenge to change your attitude so that you control the pain instead.
  2. Use your pain as a positive “cue”. Instead of dreading or fearing your pain, see it as a helpful and welcome cue to relax and take your thoughts to an important aspect of your mental game, such as feeling a good tempo in your swing and stroke, clearly visualizing your shots or putts.


Use Pain as Valuable Information

Rather than see pain as an unpleasant experience that should be avoided, accept pain as valuable information about yourself, your game and your body. Some pain can be an indicator that swing mechanics are faulty. Other pain might be a sign of over-use and fatigue. You will find it helpful to learn to distinguishing between (1) competitive pain, (2) over-use pain, (3) actual injury and (4) illness. Assessing the origin of your pain can provide you helpful information when making decisions about pain reducing methods, medical and therapeutic treatment, and swing changes.

Identifying Your Pain

In your efforts to manage your pain, it is important to learn to use your pain as information. Identifying your pain can help restore a feeling of control, allowing you to relax, clear your mind and put more mental and physical energy into managing the pain.

Get into the habit of identifying your pain as coming from one (or more) of the four origins, and respond with the relevant suggestions for action.

Competitive Golf Pain

This is the pain experienced by golfers after a competitive round or productive practice. It is typically a result of use, pushing yourself in difficult conditions or circumstances, and it is usually short in duration. Simple examples might be a sore wrist after playing in wet conditions or sore feet after walking thirty-six holes on a hilly course. This is a milder, more gratifying pain that comes from using your body effectively and efficiently. It is produced voluntarily, is largely under your control, and should be viewed as positive.

Overuse Pain

This is competitive pain that begins to become more intense and more lasting. It is still produced voluntarily but is associated with excessive or inappropriate practice and play that is driven more by anxiety, guilt, fear, frustration, low-confidence, panic, expectation of others or faulty mechanics. Overuse pain becomes more nagging and chronic and can lead to actual injury. Overuse pain should be viewed as a warning to change mental and physical approaches to practice and play. For example, Jack Nicklaus used to view old tapes of his play before playing to recognize tendencies like how he was now setting up farther away from the ball. By positioning himself closer to the ball, he eliminated a nagging pain in his hip and improved his play.

Injury Pain

This pain is no longer in your full control because actual injury has occurred. Seek professional treatment. Injury can be an indication of possible needed mental and physical changes. It should be viewed as a catalyst for rest or change.

If the cause of the injury is not readily apparent, consider the following suggestions.

Consult a knowledgeable swing instructor or golf related bio-mechanics expert to determine if your injury was initiated by faulty swing mechanics that compromise your body for results. If so, commit to goals for change.

Once healthy enough to play organize your practice to support these goals.

Assess whether you are in good enough physical condition to do what you are asking your body to do. You may find it necessary to strengthen specific muscle groups, improve flexibility or to change your weight to guard against further injury.

Unrelated Injury and Illness Pain

This is the pain that originates from non-golf related injuries or illnesses. With either it is important to consult with medical professionals for the most effective treatment. Once you are rehabilitated enough to compete, use techniques recommended here to prepare yourself to manage any associated pain. Seek counseling if fear of re-injury or relapse inhibits your play. Assess whether the injury or illness can be used as motivation to take better care of yourself by incorporating a better diet, using supplements, getting more exercise, sleeping regular hours, reducing stress or resolving personal conflicts.


Measuring Your Pain

After you have identified your pain, you will now find it helpful to measure its intensity. There are several purposes in having you measure your pain, one of which is to help you gain a greater sense of control. You will be able to measure the effectiveness of you pain reduction and management techniques if you can rate your pain. Another benefit of learning to measure your pain is the self-awareness you will gain for helping to recognize the situations and circumstances when your pain is most likely to occur.


Golf Pain Reduction

Pain reduction steps, when used correctly, can reduce physiological changes in your body that work to increase pain.

Increasing tension in your body you can restrict blood flow, cause muscle spasms, and body stiffness. These physical changes can aggravate pain as well as slow healing and cause further injury. If left unchecked, these changes can also increase the release of norepinephrine, a brain chemical, which appears to increase the sensitivity of pain receptors, and can actually increase the level of pain that is felt.

Deep Breathing

Pain and resulting tension can reduce the flow of oxygen to your body, increasing your level of pain. Deep breathing can help increase this flow of oxygen and, if done effectively, can trigger a relaxation response allowing you to let go of muscular tension. Effective deep breathing involves inhaling a long, slow, deep breath while pushing out your abdomen. Hold the breath briefly then slowly exhale as you consciously release any muscular tension.

Body Checks

Periodically and regularly take time to scan your body for tension. Once found, stretch and concentrate on letting those muscles fully relax. You might find it helpful to simultaneously tighten and briefly hold tension in ALL of your muscles. After a few seconds, fully relax as you slowly release ALL the tension from your body.

Thought Checks

Periodically check your thoughts to determine whether you are dwelling on thoughts that are positive, neutral and constructive to your efforts, or thoughts that are negative, stressful and destructive to your efforts. If you tend to worry, ask yourself whether you are putting quality mental energy into something over which you have control, or if you are non-productively “spinning your mental wheels”.

Once identified, choose to put mental energies into positive and productive or even carefree thoughts. When you feel its needed, plan a specific amount of time to worry. When your thoughts drift back to worry, remind yourself you made an appointment for such thoughts and now you are to get back to positive, constructive thinking.

Creating Your Attitude

Take a few relaxed moments before your competitive rounds to create an attitude for competition that includes a positive rather than negative view of your pain. You may know from your GolfPsych Report or previous posts that creating an attitude for competition starts with identifying all the thoughts and feelings that describe how you feel when you play your very best golf, such as, relaxed, confident, patient, focused and committed. Once identified, take time to imagine feeling all these things prior to and during competition. When playing with pain, imagine yourself using the pain as a friendly reminder to keep your body relaxed and your mind quiet.

Pain Management

Pain management involves learning to direct your attention to your pain or away from it. Keep in mind that both are to be used only when you are sure your play is not causing or exaggerating an injury.

Pain Awareness Imagery

Color Association. Before playing, get into a relaxed position and take your attention to your pain. Imagine giving your pain a very bright and intense color that you can easily associate with your pain, such a bright red or orange. Now imagine slowly changing the color of your pain to a softer, gentler color such as a pastel of green or blue. As the pain changes color, imagine that its intensity is being reduced. Anytime your attention is drawn to the pain, give it your soothing, gentle color.

Melting Ice. Again, get into a relaxed position and take your attention to your pain. Imagine giving your pain the shape, size and form of a chunk of ice. Associate your pain with the cold, hard ice. Now imagine reducing the pain my seeing the ice slowly melt, feeling the cold being replaced by warmth as your pain diminishes. (These methods sound strange but have proven very effective with practice.)

Distracting Imagery

Positive Emotional Distraction. There are the infinite ways we can distract ourselves from our pain by using imagery that stirs and entertains us with positive emotion. To be truly effective and engaging, the imagery must involve strong auditory, visual and sensory cues. For example, some players have found success by using vivid imagery between shots to relive wonderful moments with pets, children, spouses or friends that may include feeling the warmth of the sun, hearing a child’s voice, tasting a delicious food or drink or smelling a camp-fire.

Some find success by taking themselves to relaxing, vacation spots between shots, or replaying a favorite movie in their head. You are only limited by your imagination, which everyone can strengthen with practice.

Engaging Intellectual Distraction. Distracting yourself from pain can also be successfully accomplished by absorbing yourself in intellectual distractions between shots. The most obvious is stimulating conversation, though this is effective only if you are extroverted enough to open your focus, disciplined enough to narrow your focus for the next shot, and lucky enough to be paired with someone who also wants to converse.

Other intellectual distractions that players have found helpful include studying the architectural design of the course they are playing, identifying different types of plants on the course, and looking for and identifying all visible evidence of wildlife. Again the possibilities are endless, just be sure to choose topics which are easily put on hold as you hit your next shot.


Overcome Golf Injuries and Pain With Your Mental Game

As we’ve noted, learning to manage pain can be one of your more important mental skills for playing your best golf. While many golfers struggle with injuries and pain, the best golfers won’t let it hold them back.

GolfPsych can help you improve your mental game and start performing your best when stakes are the highest. Contact us to learn more about our system and the benefits of a strong mental game.

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