As Fall is upon us and school has started, the Girls High School Season has started without much of a break from the Summer grind and the Junior Golf Boys are trying to catch their breath after a summer filled with heavy travel and play.
This is the time of the year that, as a Physical Therapist and Strength Coach working with golfers, I tend to get a long line at my door of injured junior golfers. Now, that isn’t to say they all just suffered an injury recently, quite the contrary. The reason they are walking in now is because even though they have been hurting for at least a month, they were afraid to take a break and miss a “big tournament”. They, and their parents, are terrified it will hurt their chances for ranking points, AJGA stars or collegiate awareness…quite similar to what happened in Little Leagues around the country.
Little League Elbow is well known and a result of athletic children, particularly the talented ones, throwing thousands of pitches on multiple teams. The repetitive nature of throwing over thousands of repetitions on bodies that are underdeveloped to handle that load has caused ends too many promising baseball players, as well as tall medical bills and long-term consequences for the athlete.
In youth baseball, as in junior golf, the athlete (a child) and their parents often let injuries go for months at a time. Aching low backs, sharp pains in elbows, throbbing shoulder pains among others. In some cases, these injuries have been allowed to go on for 6 months or more!
The unfortunate fact is I am often told that the “break” can’t be more than 2-4 weeks because they “have another important tournament coming up that they can’t miss”. The fact is, in junior golf, almost all events are CAN MISS events and, in my opinion, MUST MISS events if you are injured.
When you are playing golf to make your living, the rules do change. But in junior golf, let’s be honest, this is not their living.
The long term consequences are not worth it unless you are 100% educated on the risks and making an informed decision. That is where we in the medical community have failed you…the junior golfers, junior golf parents, instructors, coaches, tour directors and everyone else involved in the great game of junior golf.
The tournament directors themselves, the ones who profit from Junior Golf, would rather you miss their events for the next month, rehab to health and then come back and play at your best.
Want to know why?
There were over 400 Junior Golf events in 2016 in North Carolina and South Carolina. If you have stars or ranking points to award, you are more appealing to junior golfers and their parents. So it makes pretty simple sense that the more healthy, low scoring golfers a tournament director can field, the better health his/her tour is going to have.
One of the biggest drivers of this epidemic that will continue, until someone stands up and says enough, is this idea that if a junior golfer misses one tournament, they won’t get to play in college.
Three thoughts to ponder
1) 95% of junior golfers will not play in college, so seeing a therapist who can help you rehab for performance and prevention instead of continuing to play through pain is more than worthwhile, especially long term. The often overlooked side effect of rehabbing and working out to prevent future pain is performance enhancement! So if you are in the 95%, you NEED to make time in the gym a priority to make it to the 5%.
2) If you are in the 5%, are you really showing your best to the coach recruiting you when you are hurt? Ask any college coach; they would rather you take the time to show up healthy for them than play through an injury and end your career. You are no good to them hurt.
3) Have you considered the long term ramifications of playing through pain? How many years are you cutting off of your career or how many surgeries are you setting yourself up for in the next 40 years?
The number of junior golfers who take anti-inflammatories or think they need to “play through the pain” without giving any thought to the above three questions is scary. It is the reason why Junior Golf Injuries are the next youth sports epidemic.
Because of the awareness and data collected, we are seeing the amazing advances in pitch counts and technology that have been developed to combat thousands of innings being thrown by developing arms in baseball.
So what can we be doing in golf?
The first step to combatting this epidemic is education and awareness. Over the next 3 months, we are going to be putting out information on the most common junior golf injuries we see, how you should take care of them when they happen, and how we can prevent them before they happen.
It is a fact that among the average recreational golfer, over 50% at a given time are experiencing back pain.1 To my knowledge, there has not been a study on this explicitly in junior golfers, but there is one in the works…the data is coming; and so is the change, stay tuned!
Chris Finn, MSPT, CSCS
Owner of Par4Success