Is Your Shoulder Problem Affecting Your Game?

“Dear The Golfing Doc. My left shoulder hurts. Help me! Cameron H., Publisher, Golf Today Northwest.

If you have been golfing for quite some time, I am sure you have experienced lower back pain or know of someone who has suffered from it. Lower back pain is the most common injury in the average golfer. Although these types of injuries may seem more severe and debilitating, the lower back is not the only part of the body that is often injured due to golf. The shoulders are often another area that is injured.

Shoulder injuries are fairly common and may present as a variety of conditions in golfers. If a shoulder is not feeling or functioning at 100%, the golf swing may be affected. It might be more difficult for you to set the club in the correct position. It might be painful every time you try to follow through. Your chicken wing might be worse than before. These golf issues are minimal when you consider how a bad shoulder can affect your activities of daily living. It may be painful while dressing, placing dishes in the cupboard, reaching for your cell phone, and simply brushing your teeth.

Shoulder injuries can occur due to trauma or more commonly, repetitive use. Now, yes, we use our shoulders all of the time, but repetitive use is an issue when you are moving the shoulder incorrectly. For example, when you reach overhead, your arm is supposed to externally rotate, meaning your hand should rotate palm up. Try this. Hold your arm in front of you and while keeping your palm facing up, lift your arm up as high as possible above your head. Now hold your arm in front of you again but this time turn your palm down and so your thumb is pointing downward. Now lift up your arm over your head. If you feel pinching or pain in the shoulder, that is because the biomechanics are altered. So imagine having this altered biomechanics for the shoulder and repeating this motion over and over again. Over time, there is a high likelihood that the shoulder will eventually develop an issue leading to pain, pinching, or other form of discomfort.

When it comes to repetitive use trauma, the rotator cuff tendons are the usual victims. These tendons travel below the acromial arch to attach to the humerus. The acromial arch is that flat bony part you feel at the top of your shoulder. When either one of your rotator cuff tendons becomes irritated and swollen it is called tendinitis. Due to the swelling and thickening of the tendon, it tends to become pinched under the acromial arch every time you lift your arm above shoulder height. This may then present as pain, weakness, and usually a heavy ache in the side of your arm especially if you sleep on your side at night.

Another common structure irritated at the shoulder is your biceps tendon. The biceps muscle actually attaches via two tendons: a long head and a short head. The short head is fairly deep and hard to feel on yourself. The long head is that thicker tendon in the front of your shoulder. If it’s sore and irritated, it will be easy to find because it’s tender and maybe even swollen!

Regardless of what your shoulder issue and symptoms may be, I highly suggest you have it properly assessed. Shoulders injuries can be stubborn and heal very slowly even with treatment. If you think you have a shoulder problem, try the scratch tests in the photos. If one of them is painful or there is a significant difference between your left and right, you should have your shoulder assessed by a medical professional.

Cameron demonstrates a few simple and safe exercises you can try to help keep your shoulders healthy. If you experience any pain or discomfort while attempting these tests or exercises, please stop immediately and consult your physician.

Scratch Test 1Scratch Test 2Rotator Cuff StretchFoam RollerExternal RotationsArm Lifts

Arm Circles

Dr.Sese is the Clinical Director at the Washington Golf Performance Institute in Bellevue, WA. He can be reached at