Here’s the thing: Your knee is a complex piece of machinery without a lot of rotational freedom, while golf is a sport that relies on rotational force (i.e. torque) for power.
This combination makes left knee pain after golf relatively common as it’s also subject to a significant amount of torque while playing (the opposite is true for left-handed golfers).
Now, you being here tells me that you must already be experiencing knee pain and are wondering why it’s happening and if there’s anything you can do about it.
I’m here to shed light on those queries but before anything I say can make any sense, I need you to understand the basics of your anatomy first.
Understanding The Anatomy Of The Knee
Your knee joint is made up of 3 bones:
- Your femur (or thigh bone)
- Your tibia (or shin bone), and
- Your patella (or kneecap)
Counting a 4th bone, your fibula, which isn’t technically connected to your knee but helps support the tibia, all these bones are held together by several other soft tissues such as your muscles, ligaments, menisci, cartilages, bursas, and capsules.
It’s also these same tissues that allow for smooth and stable movement between the bones.
And, speaking of movement, the main function of your knee is to bend and straighten but it does allow a tiny bit of rotation (per Physiopedia).
Okay, but why does my left knee hurt after golf?
The reason your left knee hurts after golf is that any (or many) of its parts have been damaged somewhat, be it your bones or either of its surrounding soft tissues.
Now, there are a bunch of specifics but I like to divide them into 3 major groups:
- Overuse injuries – These happen, in large part, because of poor technique and excessive repetition. Tendinitis, bursitis, and stress fractures are just a few examples.
- Fresh injuries to soft-tissues – These are mostly single-trauma events that happen to any ligament, menisci, cartilage, muscles, or other soft tissue.
- Playing with unhealed injuries and/or pre-existing conditions – These include both overuse and fresh injuries, as well arthritis and other types of ailments that can affect your knee joint.
Left knees are particularly at risk in golf and research from Sports Medicine describes it best. It says that your lead knee (left knee for right-handers, right knee for left-handers) is subject to significant forces of extension and rotation which, in turn, can risk the integrity of your knee’s structures.
How significant are these forces, you ask? 100-440% of your body weight.
So, if you weigh about 200 pounds, you can put as much as 880 lbs of torque on your lead knee.
Needless to say, that amount of stress can cause damage. This is why 3-18% of golfers, professional or otherwise, experience some sort of knee injury throughout their careers.
Knee pain can also happen during or after golf due to previous injuries or conditions. For example, an unhealed tear to either your meniscus or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can – and will – make you grimace during a golf swing.
When knee osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis act up, they can give you the same pain, too.
Now, you might be asking:
How do I protect my left knee in golf?
Preventing knee pain in golfers, comes down to 4 things:
- Working on your technique
- Taking your time
- Improving your conditioning, and
- Using the right gear or equipment
Let me explain.
1. Work on your technique
As previously stated, knee pain in golf happens mostly because of the rotational force you put on your knee during a swing. That being said, it makes sense how reconstructing your swing mechanics in a way that minimizes the amount of torque on the joint also minimizes your risk for injury.
There are several ways you can accomplish this (hint: they mostly depends on your foot):
- Try pointing your feet out. Doing this automatically also puts your knee at a pre-rotated position which, in turn, minimizes the amount of twisting it goes through during a swing.
- Lift your heel or your toes upward when you swing. Either one works on the same concept: allowing your foot to pivot instead of being firmly planted which, again, reduces the amount of twisting on your knee joint. Check out Bubba Watson’s slo-mo swing for reference to see what I mean.
- Lift your entire foot off the ground. While definitely harder to master, it hypothetically might also be the best at preventing knee injuries among golfers. Doing this right before you hit the ball also minimizes the amount of torque you put on your joint, thus massively reducing the risk of injury. In my opinion, Patrick Reed’s slo-mo swing displays this method best.
2. Take your time
And I mean both on the golf course and away from it.
According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, a whopping 82.6% of golf injuries are because of overuse. Naturally, there’s a high chance that whatever knee injury you’re experiencing right now is also because of this.
Oh, and did you know that the notorious osteoarthritis can also be a result of overuse? Yeah, Stanford says so.
So, first and foremost, learn to listen to your body while you’re at the golf course.
If something doesn’t feel right, it might be in your best interest to rest. If that just isn’t possible, rely more on your shorter, more precise shots instead of power.
Second of all, give your body enough time to rest.
Remember: getting better at sports isn’t about pushing past your physical limitations. That’s how golfers and other athletes often end up with injuries because they’ve reached past their limits. A more correct way, to me, is to gradually build yourself up so your ceiling also gets pushed higher in the process.
This brings us to the next tip.
3. Improve your conditioning
You can get better at the golfing stuff while you play but you get the strength, flexibility, and stamina for those repetitions away from the course.
That being said, a study from Sports Health says that golf injuries are often related to poor strength and flexibility, along with not properly warming up.
Thus, training yourself to be more limber and strong also curbs the possibility you getting injured. Failing to do so, on the other hand, may very well increase the likelihood of you getting knee problems in the foreseeable future.
4. Use the right gear
And, lastly, the equipment you use needs to fit you and your style of play.
Take a look at your shoes right now. Do they have long cleats? If so, that could be a problem. Those spikes can make it harder to pivot, hence putting more torque on your knees.
Use shoes with shorter cleats instead.
Here’s another example:
Your clubs might not be the right flexibility and/or length. Faster swing speeds generally also mean using stiffer shafts. On the other hand, using a club length that isn’t meant for you will alter your mechanics – and, as previously mentioned, your technique plays a huge role in injury prevention.
I highly recommend getting your clubs fitted by a professional but if you can’t, Golf Magazine has a great guide to help match you with the right clubs, so I suggest you check that out.
Can you tear your meniscus playing golf?
Yes. As a matter of fact, The Yorkshire Knee Clinic, says that meniscus tears are the most prevalent knee injuries in the game. This happens during your golf swing when your foot on your lead leg is planted and you swiftly twist your knee.
Three Causes Of Knee Pain in Golfers
Overuse injuries. Mostly a result of poor technique paired with too much repetition.
Soft-tissue injuries. The most common being a torn meniscus but damage to ligaments, stress fractures, and swollen tendons are all possible, too.
Unhealed injuries and/or pre-existing conditions.
These include overuse and soft-tissue injuries that haven’t fully healed, as well as arthritis and other conditions that affect your knee joint.
Knee pain, especially when it concerns your lead leg in golf, isn’t something to scoff at. And, more than making you play worse (or not at all), it also takes away from the fun of the game.
To help prevent this, you can train to better condition your body, use more appropriate equipment, work on your technique, and perhaps the most important bit of them all, give your body some time to recover.