Get in the (golf) game with arthritis

With spring on the horizon, many golf-starved Canadians will soon be making a beeline to the fairways. If you have arthritis, golf is an ideal activity. Walking between holes mobilizes joints and strengthens leg muscles without putting undue stress on knees and hips. Playing golf keeps your hips and shoulders mobile, maintains hand strength and even improves balance and coordination. But repetitive bending, twisting and swinging also puts pressure on your back, shoulders and wrists, so it's important to take a few precautions to protect yourself from injury.

The Arthritis Society offers the following tips:

• Consult a pro. To minimize strain on muscles and joints, take a lesson or two to learn proper form. Even experienced golfers can pick up pointers.

• Condition your muscles. Exercise can reverse the age-related decline in flexibility, particularly in the back and shoulders, which predisposes people to injury. A physiotherapist can help you devise a suitable strengthening program.

• Warm up. Before hitting the links, ease the stiffness in your joints and muscles with a warm shower or heating pad. To minimize post-game discomfort, take your medication before heading to the course.

• Loosen up. Before a game, walk for a few minutes, do 10 to 15 minutes of gentle stretches and then take 10 to 15 shots on the practice range.

• Get good gear. Perimeter-weighted heads, lightweight graphite shafts and shock-absorbing gloves reduce the jolt to your joints. The same goes for low-compression balls. To lessen stress on your finger joints, you should build up club grips with epoxy tape.

• Don't toss tees. Use tees even during practice, so you won't accidentally whack the ground and jar your joints.

• Push, don't pull. Push your cart (using both hands), rather than pulling it.

• Modify your putt. Learn to putt in an upright position; a longer putter may help.

• Put pain on ice. After your game, remember to apply ice or a cold pack to painful, swollen joints.

More information on living with arthritis is available online at www.arthritis.ca.

www.newscanada.com