Arthritis in the wrists can make playing golf challenging and painful.
The repetitive motion of the golf swing and the need for strong wrist hinge can aggravate wrist arthritis.
However, with proper precautions, adaptations, treatment, and care, you can still enjoy golfing even with wrist arthritis.
Understanding Wrist Arthritis
Arthritis in the wrists often develops over time due to the wear and tear of normal aging, previous injuries, or inflammatory conditions.
Wrist arthritis leads to symptoms like:
- Pain, aching, and stiffness in the wrist joint
- Swelling around the wrist
- Reduced range of motion and flexibility
- Weakened grip strength
These symptoms tend to worsen with activities requiring wrist flexion like golf, racket sports, lifting, and tasks involving gripping or grasping.
Types of Wrist Arthritis
The most frequent forms of wrist arthritis seen in golfers include:
- Osteoarthritis – gradual breakdown of cartilage and overgrowth of bone spurs
- Rheumatoid arthritis – autoimmune inflammation of joint lining
- Post-traumatic arthritis – caused by previous wrist fractures, sprains, or tears
Challenges in Golf
Golf requires forceful, repetitive hand motions that can aggravate arthritic wrist joints.
Arthritis may cause difficulties properly gripping the club. The pain and swelling in the wrist joint can make it hard to hold the club firmly.
You may need to use a weaker grip to avoid putting too much pressure on the tender wrist area.
Arthritic discomfort can also cause some golfers to release the club too early during the swing.
Painful Wrist Movements
Certain golf swing motions that involve extreme wrist flexion can be painful with arthritic wrists.
Cocking your wrists fully at the top of the backswing may strain the joint. Swiftly hinging your wrists while accelerating the clubhead down towards impact can also aggravate wrist arthritis.
Rolling your wrists forcefully through the follow-through is another golf movement that may worsen wrist arthritis symptoms.
Weakened Swing Control
Having arthritis stiffen the wrist joint reduces mobility, which can hinder swing control and technique.
It may be difficult to achieve the ideal wrist-cocked backswing position with limited flexibility.
Squaring the clubface consistently at impact requires firm wrist action, which is compromised by arthritis.
Generating maximum clubhead speed depends on forceful wrist action, which arthritis restricts.
Shaping shots by manipulating the face angle with your wrists becomes very challenging.
Adaptations for Golfing with Arthritic Wrists
While wrist arthritis poses challenges, you can modify equipment and technique to golf comfortably.
Use Wrist Supports or Braces
Wearing lightweight wrist braces or taping the joint can provide essential compression support and stabilize the arthritis-affected wrist during play.
Braces with adjustable Velcro straps allow you to customize the level of support.
Tape applied by a physical therapist can also limit painful wrist motion in key directions while allowing other movements.
This takes the pressure off the inflamed joints.
Choose Lighter Clubs
Standard steel shafted clubs require forceful gripping to control, which strains arthritic wrists.
Switching to lightweight graphite-shafted woods and irons instead absorbs more vibration and shock, reducing jar through tender wrist joints on each swing.
Highly flexible graphite shafts also allow the club to hinge and unload on impact without forcing sore wrists.
Modify Your Gripping Style
The traditional overlapping or interlocking grip styles involve excessive wrist torque and rotation to hold the club in place, which aggravates arthritis.
Opting for a baseball-style grip is a wise adjustment since it simply involves placing the handle in the fingers for a more neutral hold that minimizes pressure on the sensitive wrist joint.
Adapt Your Swing Technique
Making some subtle changes to your swing mechanics can take stress off arthritic wrists.
Using a shorter backswing reduces the angle of wrist cocking needed. Taking a smooth, flowing swing path prevents excessive loading and twisting of wrist joints.
Avoid overswinging and grip tension which taxes arthritis-prone wrists. Letting the big muscles in your trunk and arms power the club also decreases reliance on small joints in the wrists.
Apply Ice After Playing
Icing the arthritic wrist for 10-15 minutes after golfing constricts blood vessels to minimize swelling and inflammation.
This also numbs wrist pain receptors to relieve discomfort. Combine icing with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication for optimal post-golf arthritis management.
With the right alterations and care for equipment, grip, and swing technique, you can tailor your golf game in a joint-protective manner to accommodate your wrist arthritis.
A physical therapist or teaching pro experienced in adaptive golf methods can provide personalized guidance on adjustments to allow you to play comfortably.
Use Helpful Products
Specialized products can aid golfers with wrist arthritis:
- Wrist wrap braces with adjustable Velcro provide compression support during play.
- Hand warmers or moleskin grip sleeves keep wrists flexible and warm.
- Oversized arthritic golf grips reduce grip pressure on tender joints.
- Anti-inflammatory creams like Voltaren Gel decrease wrist pain when applied pre-round.
- Lightweight carry carts avoid aggravating wrists from carrying heavy bags.
Beyond swing changes, various treatment options can provide arthritis pain relief.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or aspirin can ease arthritis discomfort when used responsibly.
Braces and Supports
Splinting or taping wrists reduces motion and provides support during activity.
Strengthening exercises, stretching, and modalities like ultrasound or heat/ice therapy help manage arthritis.
Corticosteroid injections administered by a doctor offer temporary arthritis pain relief for some patients.
Preventing Further Progression
While arthritis can’t be reversed, you can slow its advancement using protection techniques.
- Warm up wrists thoroughly before playing
- Build wrist strength with resistance exercises
- Avoid overusing wrists on repeated practice swings
- Alternate clubs during range sessions to give wrists a rest
- Take more days off between golfing to let wrists recover
Professional Golfers Managing Arthritis
Arthritis doesn’t have to stop you from excelling at golf.
Many professional golfers have continued successful careers while dealing with various forms of arthritis through careful treatment and swing adjustments:
- Phil Mickelson – Psoriatic arthritis managed with medication and therapy
- Fred Couples – Uses anti-inflammatories to treat back and shoulder arthritis
- Casey Martin – Won lawsuit to use cart due to leg arthritis from disorder
- Jan Stephenson – Controls rheumatoid arthritis through diet and exercise
- Katherine Kirk – Plays through severe hip arthritis on LPGA Tour
- Kevin Sutherland – Takes biologic drugs for psoriatic arthritis
- Casey Wittenberg – Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 28
Seeing these pros overcome arthritis challenges demonstrates that with the right care and resilience, you can find ways to keep playing golf at a high level despite arthritis.
While arthritis may change aspects of your game, having the proper adaptations and mindset allows you to continue pursuing your passion.
Work with your doctor and coach to build an individualized plan so you can golf comfortably.