[PHOTO: fmajor]

When golfers think of injury prevention, things such as the low back, hips, shoulders and knees typically come to mind first. Understandable? Sure. However, much smaller parts of the body that golfers also should take care of are the wrists, says Mindi Boysen, a Golf Digest Certified Fitness Trainer.

Injuries such as sprains, tendinitis, carpal-tunnel syndrome – and even fractures of a delicate bone called the hook of hamate – are common wrist issues that golfers experience. If you think of the repetitive interactions between your golf club and the turf, the hinging and unhinging actions performed during the swing, and even the deceleration of a driver after impact – they all put stress on this tiny group of bones and the soft tissue that supports them.

“In the golf swing, the lead wrist should get into a neutral or bowed position before impact. Many golfers leave their wrist in an extended position through impact,” says Boysen, one of Golf Digest‘s 50 Best Trainers in America. “Meanwhile, the trail wrist should be kept in an extended or cupped position through impact. Many golfers throw that wrist into flexion during the downswing.”

Various downswing faults that add to the stress placed on the wrists include casting, scooping, straightening the body (early extension) and any other clubface manipulations performed with the hands, she says. “And grip strength matters; not being able to hold the angle of the club long enough. Grip strength in pros can be more than double a typical amateur golfer.”

Lack of mobility can also play a part in wrist injuries, she says. “The wrist is meant to be a mobile joint. When there is a tightness due to overuse or trauma as we get older, the lack of mobility and flexibility at that joint can start a chain reaction up the arm. For example, the elbow will take the brunt of the impact then move to the shoulder. And then you experience pain there as well.”

To protect your wrists, Boysen has a few tips to keep them healthy.

Elbow or wrist bothering you? Check your golf glove (this might be the issue)

“Be careful sleeping at night,” she says. “Sleeping in an odd position can wreak havoc on the health of your shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers. Keep your hands below your chest whenever possible. Also, push-ups can be killers for the wrists. The extension on the wrists over years and years of push-ups takes its toll. To strengthen your wrists, you can try push-ups on your fists so the wrist joint stays neutral.”

Finally, get your grips sized to your hands. The standard golf-club grip rarely matches a player’s hand size.

Here are Boysen’s instructions for exercises:

Standing ulnar/radial deviations and supinations/pronations with a club

Stand tall with a short iron extended in front of you, chest high. Keeping your arm straight and shoulder back, take the club from its horizontal position to vertical by cocking the wrist (radial deviation) and uncocking the wrist (ulnar deviation). Try this 10 times slow and controlled. Then, when wrist is cocked (vertical), close and open the palm so the club works in a windshield-wiper fashion, as if moving it to the numbers “9” and “3” on a clockface. This is called pronation and supination of the wrist. Do each move 10 times slow and controlled. Note: if the club is too heavy, hold it by the hosel instead of the grip.

Squash the insects and spider on the mirrors

Sitting or standing, squeeze/touch each finger to the thumb as if you are squashing an insect. Do one at a time, going up and back starting and finishing with the pinky finger. Perform this while your wrist is extended and the muscles around it and the forearm are flexed. Next, with your elbows flared, push the tips of your fingers together and wide as if it is a spider doing push-ups on a mirror. Add mobility by rotating your palms away and towards you. Do each move 10 times.

Wrist rolls

Place the base of your palms together and then slowly roll your fingers towards you while keeping your wrists together. Do this five to 10 times.

Kettlebell bottoms-up holds

Hold a kettlebell inverted so the bell is above the handle. Keep the wrist in a neutral position with that arm bent at 90 degrees in front of the shoulder. If you can hold this weight easily without shaking or feeling pain for at least 20 seconds, grab a heavier bell and start over. Eventually add an overhead press to these holds for better stability and strength. Do three 20-second holds or 10 reps of presses.