Golf Knee Pain – Why It Happens and How to Manage It

Man playing golf, Golf Knee Pain - Why It Happens & How to Manage It

So, you spent half a day (maybe more?) playing 18 holes on the golf course and now you’re experiencing golf knee pain. Well, you’re not alone. According to research from Sports Medicine, 3-18% of amateur and professional golfers suffer knee injuries which, of course, leads to pain.

Not as uncommon as you might think, eh?

But, this does beg a few questions, like:

“Why does it happen as often as it does for a supposedly low-impact sport? And is there anything that relieves the pain? Should I still be playing?”

I’m walking you through all of these today (plus some more). So, without further ado, here’s all you need to know about golf and knee pain:

Related: Golf Supports To Help With Knee Pain

Why do my knees hurt golfing?

It all boils down to 3 things:

  1. Your knee’s anatomy
  2. Your swing mechanics, and
  3. Your equipment

Let’s start with basic knee anatomy.

So, your knee is a synovial joint, meaning it’s one of the most moveable joints in your body. As a synovial joint, part of its anatomy is a capsule that houses cartilage and fluid that reduces friction during activity.

However, this moveability also has to be limited for purposes of stability, especially around weight-bearing joints like your knees. This is where your ligaments and menisci come into the picture, to limit excessive movement.

Your muscles, on the other hand, serve a dual purpose: They’re in charge of moving your knee joint but stronger muscles (that you know how to control) also help with stability.

So, to summarize, here’s a list of parts involved with your knee:

  • Bones (thigh bone, shin bone, kneecap)
  • Joint capsule (along with the cartilages and fluid it confines)
  • Ligaments
  • Menisci
  • Muscles and their respective tendons

When any of these parts get damaged, you likely will feel pain. This damage could come from a lot of things, including new and/or old diseases and injuries.

“Okay, but what does my swing mechanics have to do with it? “

Good question. And, a lot.

For one, a golf swing involves rapid rotation and extension of your knee on your lead leg.

This sudden, powerful motion can sometimes be too much for your knee to contain, leading to meniscus tears – the sport’s most prevalent type of knee injury.

Flaring out your lead foot essentially pre-rotates your knee joint, reducing the amount of rotation it has to move through during your swing, theoretically reducing your risk of injury.

Other types of injuries – like an ACL tear, for example – could also happen in golf but don’t nearly happen as often.

Another reason your knee joint might be hurting is overuse.

Though it isn’t limited to just your knees, The American Journal of Sports Medicine says overuse injuries are the most common types of injuries in golf.

So, even if you do have a mechanically sound technique, maybe you’re not giving yourself enough time to lay back and rest.

Lastly, you probably have pre-existing injuries or some type of joint disease.

For example, let’s say you have a sprain or a tear on either your meniscus or ligaments.

This tear, no matter how minute, compromises your knee’s stability which, in turn, causes pain at any time before, during, or after a swing.

Other examples would be several types of arthritis. Be it osteoarthritis, gouty, rheumatoid, or any other type, all of these conditions are chronically damaging your joints. So, when they act up, they’re going to make your knees painful, especially if you choose to push yourself while you’re in the game.

Moving on, let’s talk about how your gear can lead to golf knee pain.

I think it’s important that you check on 2 things:

  1. Your shoes, and
  2. Your clubs

1. How your golf shoes cause knee problems

Golf shoes have cleats that help keep your lead foot planted on the ground which, in turn, helps you put more power behind your swing.

However, having your foot firmly planted also puts more rotational stress around your knee during the swing. This can increase your risk of injury, particularly on your meniscus.

Try golf shoes with shorter cleats and see if that helps.

2. What about clubs? How can they cause knee injuries?

I think the 2 most important things to consider here are length and flexibility.

The length of your clubs, be it woods or irons, can also change your stance. Using a club length that isn’t suited to your stature may put more stress on your knee as well as your back and shoulders.

Flexibility, on the other hand, is determined by the speed of your drivers (per Golf Magazine). Basically, Faster drivers equate to stiffer shafts. Using a shaft with a flexibility that isn’t meant for your playing style, again, can alter your mechanics which may lead to knee injuries.

In this case, I highly recommend you let a professional fit you. Custom clubs may cost more but they could also help increase longevity.

Now, assuming you’re already in pain, here are a few things that might help:

Effective Knee Pain Treatments for Golfers

1. PRICE

Or Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

These are things you can easily do with tools that you likely already have at home. They’re collectively great for dealing with the pain and inflammation that come with any fresh knee injury.

Just a few notes though:

2. Medication

The first things you can get are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs (per MedlinePlus). A few common examples include Tylenol, Aleve, and Advil.

If those don’t work, it might be best to consult your doctor. He/she can prescribe you stronger pain medication such as opioids and corticosteroids.

In any case, and this is just my opinion, I highly recommend not using pain meds if you can help it, particularly with opioids and corticosteroids. Either of these can lead to addiction and/or dependence as well as other significant health risks when abused.

3. Other treatment options

These include surgery, plasma injections, joint aspiration, and several others.

Consider these other options when neither PRICE nor OTC meds relieve your pain as it might be related to a more serious condition. As usual, it’s best you consult with your doctor if you aren’t 100% sure.

Can you play golf with a bad knee?

It depends.

As stated by the Hospital for Special Surgery, you must wait for your torn meniscus to heal before you get back in the game. The same goes for ACL or any other ligament injuries.

However, if arthritis is what’s causing your knee pain, you may participate but do so with caution. If the joint just doesn’t feel right, playing golf right now might not be your best choice.

Now, if you do decide to go golfing, remember the things we just talked about:

  • Use shoes with shorter cleats.
  • Use properly fitted clubs.
  • Focus on your mechanics.

FAQ:

Can you play golf with torn meniscus?

Nope. It’s important to let the injury heal fully before you participate in sports.

Injury to your meniscus, any ligament, and/or cartilage causes knee instability, and playing through these injuries may lead to further damage.

In fact, Penn Medicine even says that meniscal tears that aren’t treated can lead to osteoarthritis.

How can I get relief from knee pain?

The PRICE method is usually an effective treatment for knee pain after golf. PRICE means:

  • Protection
  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevate

You may also choose to supplement this method with OTC meds (though I suggest you only do this whenever necessary).

If neither of those works, consult your doctor for other treatment options specific to your condition.

Conclusion

The anatomy of your knee joint makes it one of the most moveable parts of your body. However, its mobility is also restricted by several soft tissues in order to make it better able to support your weight.

This complex interplay between movement and stability is largely why knee pain is so common in sports.

Particularly while golfing, your lead leg is under incredible physical stress because of the implicit rotation and extension forces that come with your swing.

To help minimize your risk of injury, work on your technique, use the right gear, and give your body enough time to recover. If you’re already in pain, consider PRICE and OTC pain relievers as your first line of defense but be sure to check with your doctor if your symptoms persist.