Your knee is a complex piece of machinery without a lot of rotational freedom. Golf is a sport that relies on rotational force. This combination makes left knee pain after golf common in the right-handed golfer (the opposite is true for you lefties).
Your being here tells me that you’re already experiencing knee pain. You might also be wondering why it’s happening and if there’s anything you can do about it.
I’m here to shed light on those queries, starting with discussing your knee’s basic anatomy. If you want to skip ahead, simply tap on the bullets below:
Understanding The Anatomy Of The Knee
Your knee joint has 3 bones:
- Your femur (or thigh bone)
- Your tibia (or shin bone), and
- Your patella (or kneecap)
Soft tissues such as your muscles, ligaments, and others hold all these bones together. 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. It also allows a tiny bit of rotation (1).
Okay, but why does my left knee hurt after golf?
The reason your left knee hurts after golf is that there’s damage to any (or many) of its parts. Be it your bones or either of its surrounding soft tissues.
Now, there are many possible golf-related injuries but I like dividing them into 3 types:
- Overuse injuries – These happen largely because of poor technique and excessive repetition. Tendinitis, bursitis, and stress fractures are a few examples.
- Fresh injuries to soft tissues – These are 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 as arthritis and other types of ailments that can affect your knee joint.
Research from Sports medicine says that left knees are particularly at risk in golf. It’s subject to significant forces of extension and rotation which puts the integrity of your knee’s structures at risk. (2)
How significant are these forces, you ask? 100-440% of your body weight.
So, if you weigh about 200 pounds, one golf swing 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 because of the rotational force you put on your knee during a swing. Having said that, 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 do this (hint: they mostly depend on your foot):
- Try pointing your feet out. Doing this puts your knee in a pre-rotated position. It also minimizes the amount of twisting your joint goes through during a swing.
- Lift your heel or your toes upward when you swing. Either one works because of the same concept. They allow your foot to pivot instead of being firmly planted. This, 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 harder to master, it 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 reducing the risk of injury. 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. There’s a high chance that whatever knee injury you’re experiencing right now is also because of this. (3)
Moreover, the notorious osteoarthritis can also be a result of overuse. (4)
So, first, 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. Second of all, give your body enough time to recover between sessions.
3. Improve your conditioning
You can get better at the technicalities of golf while you play. But you get the strength, flexibility, and stamina for those repetitions away from the course.
Having said that, a study says that golf injuries are often related to poor strength and flexibility, along with not properly warming up. (5)
Thus, training yourself to be more limber and strong also curbs the possibility you getting injured. Failing to do so 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.
For example, your shoes. 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.
Another example would be your clubs. They might not have the right flexibility and/or length.
Faster swing speeds generally need stiffer shafts. Using a club length that isn’t meant for you also alters your mechanics. And, as mentioned before, your technique plays a huge role in injury prevention.
Recommended: How to play golf with a sore lead knee
Can you tear your meniscus while playing golf?
Yes, you can suffer a meniscus tear while playing golf. After all, it’s the most prevalent knee injury in the game. It largely happens during your golf swing when your lead foot is planted and you swiftly twist your knee. (6)
What are the causes of knee pain in golfers?
The 3 most common causes of knee pain in a golfer’s lead knee are overuse injuries where poor technique meets excessive repetition; soft-tissue injuries such as meniscus injuries and torn ligaments; and unhealed injuries or pre-existing conditions like arthritis.
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 enough time to recover.
- “Knee.” Physiopedia
- 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
- 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
- “Injury/Overuse.” Stanford Health Care, 12 Sept. 2017
- Meira, Erik P, and Jason Brumitt. “Minimizing injuries and enhancing performance in golf through training programs.” Sports health vol. 2,4 (2010): 337-44. doi:10.1177/1941738110365129
- The Yorkshire Knee Clinic. “Common Golf Knee Injuries | Yorkshire Knee Clinic.” The Yorkshire Knee Clinic, 21 Aug. 2020