Women Golfers Play Harder—and They’re Paying a Price

By Dan Hellman

I have worked with some of the world’s greatest male golfers over the last couple of years to help them overcome injuries and condition themselves to get the most out of their game. Recently, I’ve started to work with women golfers, and I’ve noticed a trend that may not surprise you: The women are having the same problems as the men—back pain.

“So what’s the big deal?” you might say. “We all get back pain.” True, but that’s where the similarities end, because golf is a different game for women than for men.

Common Injuries: Elbows and Back

The two most common problems affecting female golfers are injuries of the elbow and lower back, followed by shoulder, wrist and knee injuries, according to “Golf Injuries: A Review of the Literature,” by McHardy, Pollard and Luo. No surprises there.  What concerns me is that I think the game itself is causing these problems for women, particularly the back injuries. Why? Largely because of the way we have designed and play golf courses.  The golf course requires women to exert more power on their swing than men, in relative terms. The game simply demands more distance and power of women than it does of men as I describe below.

What’s different for women?

Someone said long ago that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. Well, men and women may wear the same shoes on the golf course, but when it comes to the way we play golf and lay out our golf courses, women simply face a bigger challenge, and they have to play harder.

Let’s look at what the average woman faces on the golf course. Most people think women don’t hit the ball as far as men, and that is generally true. The average swing speed of a female LPGA player is 94 mph with the driver and 78 mph with the 6 – iron, according to data collected by TrackMan.  This compares to driver speed of 113 mph and 6 – iron speed of 92 mph on the PGA Tour.  This difference equates to a roughly 21% change in swing speed from men to women.  Speed is an important variable to power, and power is important for overall distance. 

This is a substantial difference, and it should be equalized by the siting of the tee boxes designated for men and women. The problem is that the tee boxes don’t adequately compensate for the difference. The average LPGA course is 6,400 yards, and the average PGA course is 7,200 yards.  Women’s tee boxes, on average, only cut the distance of the course by 10%-12% or less, so in terms of the power needed, a woman golfer is playing a course that’s significantly longer than the same course played by a man.  

To put this in perspective, a male golfer would have to play the golf course at more than 8,200 yards long to get the feel for what a woman experiences. This is 1,000 yards longer than the average PGA tour course, an average of 60 yards per hole. * Women are playing extremely long-distance golf courses in relation to their average swing power. As a result, power is at a premium, and strain is the price paid.

A man is like a VW Beetle. A woman is like a Ferrari.

To compound matters, women have a very finely tuned hormonal system, whereas men—well, we just kind of sputter along through life. But a woman’s Ferrari-like endocrine system comes with a Ferrari-like temperament and a Ferrari-like need for maintenance.

Women have to deal with a monthly menstrual cycle at which time their hormonal system takes top priority. During the second half of the menstrual cycle, a woman’s body releases the hormone relaxin, which causes laxity throughout the body. This particularly affects the uterus and pelvic area, but also the ligaments and joints throughout the body. Training or swinging for power during this stage can have serious effects on the joints of the body due to the laxity.

What’s the solution for women? Specific training.

Women need to train their bodies in specific ways for the rigors of golf, and that means they need to pay particularly close attention to their bodies and their training during the last half of the menstrual cycle. This is extremely important. They need to focus especially on making sure the thoracic cage is mobile and the lumbar spine is stable. The female golfer also must have abs and glutes of steel, which will help compensate for the laxity produced in the second half of the menstrual cycle.

I have helped many women improve their game and prevent injury by following this philosophy using segmental strengthening, myofascial stretching, global postural stretching and ELDOA. In fact, the two greatest longevity tools in my toolbox are myofascial stretching and ELDOA. Every female golfer should be performing these two modalities on a daily basis.   

Consult an expert.

A recent study reports that there are about 5.5 million adult women golfers in the United States today. This represents 22.8% of the total 24 million adult golfers. As you can see, golf is an extremely popular sport among women. Unfortunately, as the number of female golfers increases, so do the injuries. 

I am not an expert on the broader subject of women’s health, but I have a wonderful colleague named Janet Alexander who has helped me on some very difficult cases. Janet works with female golfers and lectures around the world on the female menstrual cycle. Her email is: janetalexander1@me.com.

Golf fitness is one of my top specialties because it combines my life’s calling as a physical therapist with my passion for the game of golf. Frankly, I love working with the golfing athlete, whether male or female. Every golfer is unique, and every golfer needs his or her uniquely tailored fitness program.

If you should have any questions or wish to make an appointment, whether you’re a man or a woman, email me at info@h3bydan.com or call 954.566.0585.

Better Body. Better Golf.

Dan Hellman, MSPT

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