Did you know that 3-18% of amateur and professional golfers suffer knee injuries? This, of course, leads to golf knee pain. Needless to say, you’re not alone. (1)
But, this does beg a few questions. Why does happen as often as it does? Is there anything you can do to relieve the pain? Should you even be playing golf?
I’m answering these concerns (plus more) today. So, stick around for a couple of minutes. I recommend reading this from top to bottom. But, if you want to skip sections, you can always tap on the bullets below.
- 3 reasons your knees hurt from playing golf
- Treatment for knee pain in golfers
- Can you play golf with a knee injury?
Why do my knees hurt while playing golf?
It all boils down to issues with either of these 3 things
- Your knee’s anatomy
- Your swing mechanics, and
- Your equipment
Let’s start with basic knee anatomy.
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. In turn, this reduces friction during activity. (2)
All the movements of your knee are then stabilized by ligaments and menisci.
On the other hand, your muscles serve a dual purpose. One, they make moving your knee joint possible. Second, stronger muscles (that you know how to control) 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)
- Muscles and their respective tendons
You will likely feel pain when any of these parts get damaged. Furthermore, 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 twisting motion can sometimes be too much for your knee to contain. This leads to meniscus tears – one of the sport’s most common knee injuries.
Flaring out your lead foot pre-rotates your knee joint. This reduces the amount of rotation it has to move through during your swing. Theoretically, this is key to preventing knee pain and injury.
Other types of injuries – like an ACL tear, for example – could also happen in golf but don’t happen as often.
Another reason your knee joint might be hurting is overuse.
Though it isn’t limited to your knees, The American Journal of Sports Medicine says overuse injuries are the most common types of injuries in golf. (3)
So, even if you have sound technique, you’re likely 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 ligament sprain and a history of meniscus injuries.
These injuries, no matter how minute, compromises your knee’s stability. This causes pain at any time before, during, or after your golf swing.
Other examples would be several types of arthritis. Be it osteoarthritis, rheumatoid, or any other type, all these conditions are chronically damaging your joints.
So, when they act up, they’re going to make your knees painful. This is especially true if you choose to push yourself while you’re in the game.
How your gear can lead to golf knee pain
It’s important that you check on 2 things:
- Your shoes, and
- Your clubs
How your golf shoes cause knee problems
Golf shoes have cleats that help keep your lead foot planted on the ground. In turn, they help you put more power behind your golf swing.
But having your foot firmly planted also puts more rotational stress around your lead knee during your swing. This can increase your risk of knee injury, particularly on your meniscus.
Try golf shoes with shorter cleats and see if that helps.
What about clubs? How can they cause knee injuries?
The 2 most important things you need 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.
Flexibility is determined by the speed of your drivers (Golf Magazine). Faster drivers equate to stiffer shafts. Using a shaft with flexibility that isn’t meant for your playing style can alter your mechanics. This can lead to knee injuries.
Now, assuming you’re already in pain, here are a few things that might help:
3 Effective Knee Pain Treatments for Golfers
Or Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
These are things you can do with tools that you likely already have at home. They’re great for dealing with the pain and inflammation that come with any fresh knee injury.
Just a few notes though:
- Never ice an injury for more than 20 minutes at a time.
- Ice several times a day for about 2-3 days.
- Make sure your compression wraps aren’t too tight or too loose.
- Remove compression wraps when you sleep.
For further reading:
The first things you can get are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs. 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.
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 a more serious condition. As usual, you should consult with your doctor if you aren’t 100% sure.
Can you play golf with a bad knee?
As stated by the Hospital for Special Surgery, you must wait for your torn meniscus to heal before you play. The same goes for ACL or any other ligament injuries.
But, if arthritis is what’s causing your knee pain, you can take part but do so with caution. If your joint doesn’t feel right, playing golf right now might not be your best choice.
If you do decide to head back to the golf course, remember the things we talked about:
- Use shoes with shorter cleats.
- Use properly fitted clubs.
- Focus on your mechanics.
Recommended: How to play golf with a sore lead knee
Can you play golf with torn meniscus?
No, you can’t play golf with a meniscus tear. Or, more specifically, you shouldn’t. Let the injury heal before you take part in sports. Doing otherwise may lead to further damage.
Recommended: Playing golf with a torn meniscus. Yay or nay?
How can I get relief from knee pain?
The PRICE method is usually effective for relieving knee pain from golf-related injuries. PRICE means Protection, Ice, Compression, and Elevate. OTC meds can also be effective. If neither of those options works, consult your doctor for other treatment options.
Recommended: Best compression sleeves and braces for golf
The anatomy of your knee joint makes it one of the most moveable parts of your body. Several soft tissues restrict this mobility for purposes of stability.
This complex interplay between movement and stability is why knee pain is so common in sports.
Particularly with golf, your lead leg (left knee if you’re right-handed) is under incredible physical stress because of the implicit rotation and extension forces that come with your swing.
To help cut 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. If your symptoms persist, consult with your doctor.
- Baker, Matthew L et al. “Risk Factors for Knee Injury in Golf: A Systematic Review.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 47,12 (2017): 2621-2639. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0780-5
- Tarafder, S., and C. H. Lee. “Synovial Joint.” In Situ Tissue Regeneration, Elsevier, 2016, pp. 253–73. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-802225-2.00014-3.
- Gosheger, Georg et al. “Injuries and overuse syndromes in golf.” The American journal of sports medicine vol. 31,3 (2003): 438-43. doi:10.1177/03635465030310031901