I wanted to provide some information to some common injuries experienced while playing disc golf. Disc golf is not a dangerous sport, but as with any athletic activity, there are some risks to be aware of. It is less likely to be the cause of injuries than high-level sports because disc golf is not a contact sport, a sport that requires max effort on each attempt, or an endurance sport. However, because of the variability between courses and terrain, as well as the repetitive nature of throwing, there are some risks associated with disc golf.
Knee pain can occur from a variety of injuries, but for sake of simplicity, we will separate it into acute onset (sudden), and insidious onset (over time). Disc golf injuries that could be classified as acute injuries would be ligament tears or sprains (ACL, MCL), meniscus injuries, fractures, or muscle strains. These injuries would initially be felt at the time of the injury and anytime within the following 24 hours. You should expect pain from these injuries to linger throughout most daily activities that requiring you to put weight through your leg. The cause of injury can vary, but I usually see ligament and meniscus injuries occur with bad movement patterns, such as not following through after a powerful drive. If you plant your lead foot too hard, and don’t pivot after the throw, you are putting a lot of rotational stresses through your knee. This can lead to any of the injuries listed above. Depending on the severity of your injury, you might feel great in 2 weeks or you may still be hurting after 3 months. Working on form is hugely important with most injuries, as is making sure that you move in a smooth manner. Explosiveness is great for some sports, but disc golf is a finesse/skill sport. While releasing the disc smoothly is important, the follow through is equally important. Make sure you allow your body to slow down naturally, and let the forces be dispersed over time, rather than all at once.
Insidious injuries are usually due to repetitive overuse or abnormal stresses from poor form, poor gait, or limited strength. Injuries in this category include patellar tendonitis and some meniscus tears. Arthritis can also be felt during these activities, but is most likely from aging and genetics. However, arthritis can be helped as well with the following advice. You may feel these types of injuries after a few holes every time you play and you may not remember when they actually started. After you rest, the pain may dull, but may come back once you start walking/hiking and playing again. There are a few things you can try to limit pain from this type of injury. The first is to strengthen your glutes and hips. Your hips control where your knees are in space, and if your hips aren’t keeping your knees in a good position, you’re going to have abnormal stresses to the knees. This abnormal stress can cause pain after some time. The second way to limit pain is to focus on the way you walk, especially on inclines, declines, and stairs. If your knee falls inside of the line between your hip and foot, you are again putting extra stresses on the knee that can be prevented. Disc golf is a lot of hiking and walking, meaning not every surface is perfectly flat and safe. During varied terrain, it is especially important to focus on keeping your knees in line with your hips and ankles, as this is how your body is meant to move. If you squat, your thigh should be pointed the same direction as your toes. This also applies to walking, lunging, and planting your foot to throw.
Tennis elbow is the common name for Lateral Epicondylopathy, which is a fancy way of saying “pain on the outside of the elbow.” Most times, this pain comes from overuse, especially from repetitive motions such as throwing backhand 300 times over the course of the week. This repetition can result in aggravated tissue that attempts to heal itself. The tissues eventually stop trying to heal eventually begin to form abnormal collagen, or scar tissue. This scar tissue is weaker than other tissues and is more prone to reinjury. To fully heal from this sort of injury, you’ll need to decrease your activity to reduce the stress to the injured tissues. Most importantly, you will likely need to change the way you throw. Poor mechanics with throwing can cause abnormal stresses to the elbow, leading to increased risk of injury. If you were seeing me, I’d film your throws to make sure you are using your body correctly while throwing. Learning about your throw will to increase your efficiency, spreading out the forces through your body, rather than allowing your elbow to take all of the stress.
Golfer’s elbow is very similar to tennis elbow. The main difference between the two is the location of the pain. Pain from golfer’s elbow is on the inside of the elbow, as opposed to the outside of the elbow. You can expect this type of pain to be more present with disc golfers who throw more forehand and overhead shots (tomahawks and thumbers). To correct improve your form, you would want to make sure you’re getting your whole body into the throw and not “short arming” it, or just throwing with your arm. Take a good stride with your lead foot and rotate your body to help produce the power for these shots.
Hip flexor pain
The hip flexors are a group of muscles in the front of the hip, that help to lift the thigh. Hip flexor pain is usually an injury caused by overuse, typically from moving with poor form. Hip flexor problems are noticed the most with changes in terrain and hills. Many people with this type of problem use their quads (front of thigh) and front hip muscles to help them get up and down hills. While most people are strong enough to do this successfully, you are not using the muscles the way they were intended and therefore, it is not ideal. Your glutes (butt muscles) are the ones that should be taking the majority of the load in this situation. Overuse of the front hip muscles can lead to further groin pain, and eventually to back pain if it is not handled appropriately. I recommend doing some bridging exercises to help strengthen the glutes (image to the right), and focusing on using your glutes when walking, especially on unlevel ground. Having a strong butt is important to using your core muscles properly, as the biggest muscle (gluteus maximus) connects your leg muscles and fascia to your back muscles and fascia.
Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is a thick band of tissue that runs from the heel to the ball of the foot. Pain is experienced in this area when the tissue gets aggravated or if there is a bone spur on the underside of the heel. Sometimes this can be from extra stresses on the joint (high-level sports and weight gain), but sometimes it can be from a degeneration of the protective fat pad under the foot. This is a tricky one to give advice for in writing, as each case is a bit different. Some methods we may use to address this issue include stretching, custom orthotics, taping, splints, heel padding, and hands-on treatments. Without an individualized assessment, it is hard to say what will work for your pain. I would, however, suggest trying different shoes and off-the-shelf orthotics to attempt to alter or decrease your pain.