As millions of avid golfers get ready for another season of pars and bogeys, they should be aware of potentially serious foot problems that can result from years of playing the game. As the foot and ankle surgeon at MMI for the last four years, every spring, as the weather warms and more golfers take to the links, I begin to see an increase in patients, who are golfers, experiencing foot pain.
Although golf is not considered a rigorous sport, the physical act of repeatedly swinging a golf club in practice and on the links can lead to a condition known as hallux limitus, a jamming and deterioration of the big toe joint. The movement and weight transfer that occur during the swing’s follow through can cause this problem and other chronic foot ailments.
When golfers follow through on their swing, they can overextend the big toe joint on the back foot. Those who have played the game avidly for several years eventually can wear out the cartilage or jam the big toe joint. The likely outcome, if left untreated, is a painful arthritis in the big toe, which would make it very difficult to continue playing golf.
Golfers who have pain and swelling around the big toe joint, or have less mobility in this area than other parts of the foot, should visit a foot and ankle surgeon for an examination and appropriate treatment. A history of trauma to the big toe area and bone structure also can precipitate the condition. Individuals with a long first metatarsal bone (big toe), for example, are more susceptible to joint compression and hallux limitus.
If golfers experience pain in the big toe area when playing, they should consider it a warning sign that intervention is necessary before the joint becomes arthritic. In most situations orthotics can be prescribed to provide relief, but others with advanced cases may require surgery.
Another foot problem in golfers is a neuroma, or pinched nerve, at the bottom of the foot. The weight transfer to the front foot that occurs in the follow through applies pressure that, over time, can cause a pinched nerve.
I always advise my patients who are golfers not to wear golf shoes that have a spike located directly beneath the ball of the foot. The pressure from that single spike, magnified by the several thousand steps taken during an average round, can cause intense pain and swelling in the ball of the foot. Any pair of golf shoes can be made more foot friendly without sacrificing traction by just removing poorly located spikes.