This is the second of two articles on common injuries for disc golfers. To read part one, please follow the link here. Again, disc golf is not a dangerous sport, but as with any sports activity, there are some risks to be aware of. It is less likely to be the cause of injuries than other high-level sports because disc golf is a non-contact sport, requires less than max effort on each attempt, and it is not 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.
Ankle sprains are one of the most common athletic injuries across all sports. A sprain is when the ligaments around a joint are injured. Because a significant amount of weight is placed through the ankle so frequently, the ligaments are very thick and strong. However, once a sprain has occurred, the ligament is unlikely to heal to its previous strength, resulting in an increased risk of re-sprain. If you experience frequent ankle rolling events, you should work to improve your balance. You may not feel like your balance is off in any way, but the muscles that are activated when performing balance tasks are the same muscles that stabilize the ankle. Practice standing on one leg for 30 seconds. If you’re a pro, try it while standing on foam, or while standing on a pillow. Chances are, this will provide a bit of a challenge and can help you improve ankle strength. Once this gets easy, increase the difficulty level by moving your arms and elevated leg while balancing.
Other options that can work to prevent rolling an ankle would be using short boots, such as a hiking boot, to brace your ankle while playing. Boots will provide more stability to your foot and ankle and may keep you from rolling. I’m not typically a fan of bracing, as it can lead to weakness in the area and further your need to wear the brace, however, if worn only during disc golf, it can limit your risk of another sprained ankle while on the course. Check out the video below for an advanced version of the single leg balance exercise. Moving the other leg purposely throws off your center of mass, requiring you to work harder to maintain your balance.
Wrist and Hand Problems
Wrist and hand injuries are a bit less common in disc golf but are more debilitating because you use your hand for every throw. I’ll first comment on grip, as this can be a cause for blisters and friction injuries of the hand. Make sure your disc and hands are dry before throwing. Water can actually cause more friction between your hand and the disc, especially if you’re squeezing tighter to not lose your grip. Additionally, even if everything is clean and dry, you shouldn’t be squeezing the disc like it’s your last dollar. A firm but gentle grip is key. Make sure your pull is straight, and the disc will leave your hand as your elbow fully extends. Wrist pain is usually experienced at the end of the range of motion. For example, someone throwing right hand back hand may experience pain as their wrist fully extends at the release point. The cause of this pain may be varied, but additional stress to the wrist can be prevented by making sure that you have a good follow through. If you stop your arm’s momentum at release, your wrist may hyperextend, causing extra stress. Make sure that you follow through your throw, and allow your arm to slow down over time, not all at once.
Another issue that I have had personally is a feeling of swelling and pressure after a big backhand throw. This is likely caused by a lack of warm up. The veins in your arms and legs usually work with as little energy as possible and allow gravity to help as much as possible. When forcefully swinging your arm during a throw, blood rushes to your hand and wrist, and your veins are not working quickly enough to drain the blood away from the hand. It can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes for this sensation to go away. To prevent this all together, do some jumping jacks or other calisthenics that use your upper body before you get started. This will get the blood pumping into your arms and get your veins ready to work during your throws.
The shoulder is one of the most mechanically challenging joints in the body. The reason it is so challenging is because of how much mobility it has. Three common problem areas are the rotator cuff, labrum, and bursa. These three tissues are related very closely. The rotator cuff muscles help the joint move, but also stabilize the arm bone to your body. The labrum helps protect the bones from each other and keeps a negative pressure within the socket to help the arm bone stay against the shoulder blade. The bursa is not typically classified as part of the shoulder joint, but it helps to protect the tendons and muscles on the outside of the joint from rubbing against the arm bone. Weakness in the rotator cuff, or in the shoulder blade muscles can lead to increased stress on the bursa and labrum. Pain can also inhibit the muscles, causing further weakness. So, if weakness caused the problem, and weakness is also a symptom…obviously something has to be done to reverse this. While this is going into a lot of detail, we can sum this up by saying that weakness or damage to any portion of the shoulder can cause additional stress in other areas of the shoulder, eventually leading to further damage.
The best thing to do in this situation is stabilize the shoulder and shoulder blade with strengthening exercises. Try the exercise below. If the exercise is painful, contact me and I can talk you through it, as it should not be a painful activity. As mentioned before, mechanics are very important for proper use of the shoulder. You need to pay attention to how you’re throwing, especially forehands and tomahawks, and be sure to get your body into the throw, so that the forces do not go only through the shoulder.
Another way that people seem to injure themselves on the course is with freak injuries. Two that I have heard about most recently were stepping into a hole, and unintentionally doing a split on a wet tee pad. Obviously, not all injuries can be prevented in all cases, but there is always a need for some caution when playing a sport. Disc golf is no different.
Try to be as aware of your surroundings as possible. Early morning rounds tend to be wet from dew and can lead to slippery conditions. Be sure to do a practice run up and check your footing where you’ll be throwing from. Make sure to clear the tee pad of debris, as you could roll your ankle or slip. This is even more important when there are not concrete tee pads. Fallen leaves can also be slippery and can be a fall/slip hazard. Falls are one of the most common causes of mortality in adults, so be vigilant about how you move out there.
Back pain is the most common orthopedic injury across nearly all sports, activities, and demographics, with varying causes and severities. Because of this, it will be impossible to include information for all types of back pain. If this is something that bothers you frequently and limits your ability to play disc golf and live your life, please contact me. There are many issues that we, as physical therapists, can help with. Because we are able to spend more time with you than other providers, we can provide the best care possible. That being said, there are some general things that apply to most types of back pain.
First, hip and glute strength are necessary to help limit the stresses to the back. Exercises for hip and glute strength can be found HERE in the section about hip flexor pain. I also recommend trying some clamshell exercises to help strengthen the gluteal muscles. Mid-back mobility is extremely important as well. Many times, low back pain can occur when the low back moves too much, causing excessive stress to the back, leading to pain. One way to help limit this motion is helping the mid-back move better. This part of the spine is called the thoracic spine, and it needs to rotate a lot, especially in rotational sports such as disc golf, baseball, softball, hockey etc. I recommend the following stretch to help the mid back move a bit better. Check out the video below. Lastly, make sure you’re paying attention to your technique. Smooth throws are more likely to use the entire body, and more likely to spread out the forces amongst multiple body regions.
As with any sport, there is always a risk of injury, but the goal is to stay strong and keep moving. If any of these exercises cause you pain, stop doing them. Every body is unique, and some folks may greatly benefit from some of these exercises, while some folks may need a modified version of them. Give us a call if you have any questions, or need help figuring out modifications that work for you.