Everyone talks about golf-induced pain, but foot injuries are hardly ever discussed. Most people just try to limp around the course, ride a cart or just throw their swing off and increase their stress when their feet hurt! Over 45 million Americans participate in amateur golf. A full round of golf affords the opportunity for a close to 5 mile workout that can reduce stress and improve your cardiac health. Good foot action is the mark of an accomplished golfer and has been compared to intricate dance steps. Why is it then that a golfer’s feet get no respect? Addressing your foot biomechanics can add yards to your game and make your golf outing much more enjoyable.
During the golf swing the body acts as a whip, power production starts with the feet pushing against the ground. The foot pivots and provides intrinsic lateral movement to enable the hip to fully rotate around a fixed leg position. Each foot moves differently during a golf swing, the back foot must allow for more pronation (rolling in to collapse the arch) during the follow through of the golf swing than the front foot.
The anatomy of a biomechanically sound swing goes like this: During set-up, your weight should be evenly distributed on both feet with slightly more weight on the forefoot as you lean over, and slightly more weight on the insides of both feet. Maintenance of proper foot alignment on the back swing is critical for control of the downswing and contact position. During the back swing, weight should be shifted to the back foot; it should be evenly distributed on the back foot or maintained slightly on the inside.
As the back foot remains in a solid position on the back swing without any rolling to the outside, the front foot is in turn rolling to the inside. The front heel occasionally comes off the ground to promote a full shoulder turn. Completion of the back swing places the weight on the back foot, evenly distributed between forefoot and rear foot, with the weight left on the front foot rolling to the inside.
The downswing involves a rapid shift of weight from back to front foot; momentum brings the heel of the front foot down, and follow-though naturally causes a rolling of the back foot to the inside and the front foot to the outside. Golf should always be played from the insides of the feet.
As you can imagine, healthy feet are critical to a successful golf game. Having biomechanically sound, stable feet will attain that goal!
What kinds of injuries are seen in golf that are caused directly or indirectly by foot function?
1. Lower Back Pain: This is the most common golf injury. Pain and stiffness in the back and neck are usually caused by the twisting motion of the golf swing as the shoulders rotate around the hips. This twisting of the torso in a coil fashion can put enormous pressure on the vertebrae, muscles and ligaments of the spine especially during the recovery phase. Indeed when one addresses the ball, the bent back puts the golfer in a most vulnerable position. A very common, yet insidious cause of lower back pain is over pronation in the feet. Even a slight postural misalignment caused by over pronation can lead to back pain.
2. Knee Problems: Inflammation or pain in the knees is caused by the twisting motion of the golf swing and sometimes by walking in ill fitting shoes. Rest, is again the best medicine. However, a re-evaluation of one’s swing and foot orthotics to realign the knee can help prevent this condition from occurring.
3. Shin Splints: Pain in the muscles of the lower leg is usually caused by excessive walking after a period of inactivity. It can also be caused by over pronation in the feet, putting excessive pressure on the lower leg.
4. Heel/Arch Pain: Plantar fasciitis is very prevalent in all sports and commonly occurs due to excessive pronation in the feet. Golfers will often complain of pain when first rising in the morning and after periods of rest. Pain will be located in the center of the heel radiating along the arch.
5. Achilles Tendonitis: Inflammation of the Achilles tendon is caused by repetitive stress when pushing off or following through. Your swing can really inflame this tendon with excessive stress.