Are You Golfing with Knee Pain?

“Dear, The Golfing Doc; I’m a right-handed golfer and I’m experiencing pain in my left knee when I golf. Any suggestions on how to fix it? Thanks. Doug L., Seattle, WA”.

Recently, on one of my flights, a fellow passenger asked me this question while we were waiting at the gate. He is in his mid-thirties, in good shape and health, except for this knee issue. I should add that he is a right-handed golfer. He mentioned that he works out two to three times per week and can only run for about ten minutes on the treadmill before having to stop due to the knee pain. He also mentioned he stopped doing leg exercises for the past two months since he didn’t want to irritate his knee. I did not have the chance to perform an orthopedic exam on his knee, but he did have a copy of his recent x-ray and MRI reports on his phone– and both showed no significant findings.

Based on this brief history he gave me, I started to question him more about when the left knee pain would occur. He mentioned that it would always start after about a couple dozen swings. It would then get worse as he progressed through a round of golf, especially if he was walking a hilly course. Although we were at the airport, we had some space around us for him to show me a couple of his movements. The first one I asked him to do was a squat. Second, I asked him to show me the range of motion in his hips.

Based on these two movements, I was able to understand his issue a little more and determine that a lot of his knee pain was due to poor biomechanics. If you examine the pictures I have included, you’ll notice that the squat test photo illustrates what a good squat looks like versus a bad squat. In the photo of the bad squat, you will see that the diving inward of one or both knees puts a lot of stress on the ligaments along the inside of the knee. Sometimes this is referred to as “knock knees”. Now look at the standing hip turn test and observe the difference between good and bad hip rotation. Try these tests yourself before reading on.

Without looking at his swing or yours, just imagine what happens to your knees and hips. Do your legs “knock” inward as you drop into your golf stance? Are your hips stuck or do they rotate enough when you swing?

If you have limited hip rotation, especially in the left hip (for a right-handed golfer), your left knee will take a lot of torque during the downswing and follow-through. Because of chronic stress to the ligaments on the sides of your knee, there is a lot of instability and twisting happening. This can then lead to left knee pain and other injuries like a torn meniscus. If you are a left-handed golfer, you’ll experience the opposite scenario.

One suggestion to help prevent knee issues is to work to strengthen your legs and to also improve your hip mobility. Performing the exercises, here, for 10 to 12 repetitions, a couple sets a day, will help make your knees and hips stronger and safer. Combine this with some swing lessons and physical therapy as well to achieve the best results. If you experience any pain or unusual discomfort during any of these exercises, please stop immediately and consult your physician.


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