golf medicine

No Pain, No Gain! Really????

// June 18, 2015

During a post-round interview in 2013, Tiger Woods said “You can play hurt, but not injured”. It really caught my attention because no pro-athlete has quite made that distinction before yet. Here’s why I found it intriguing:

I often face the decision whether to advise a patient to stop strenuous activities all together and rest the painful area, or to play through it. The key factor in my decision is this question: will my patient do more harm/damage by continuing to play?

Tiger is 100% correct in making that distinction between being hurt and being injured.  Being hurt is painful, but you CAN play through the pain without causing more damage. For example, Henrik Stenson played recently with mild pain in his wrist from an irritated tendon and wrist joint. There was no chance of him making it worse if he played, so he teed up.

On the flip side, we had to advise Justin Rose to withdraw from the Honda Classic when his shoulder started hurting. He was injured. Playing through the pain would have worsened his condition and lead to a bad outcome long term.

Here is an insider’s secret rule that I use when deciding if someone can play through pain:

If you have pain or swelling of a joint, DO NOT PLAY. Pack on the ice, rest and seek medical attention. Your body is sending you a very strong message: something’s wrong! Stop and listen.

If your pain involves muscles or doesn’t involve joints, you can play through the pain. You can strap it up as Henrik did, use anti-inflammatories to reduce the pain, and apply some ice before and after you play. Often times, especially when the pain is from a muscle, playing may make the sore spot feel better. Once you are done with that competition, go seek medical advice to identify the cause of the pain and prevent recurrence.

But If you play through the pain and the pain or swelling worsens, stop playing.

I reiterate, this is a very general rule. If in doubt, sit it out. And ice the painful area regardless.

Now you understand how Tiger decides if he’ll keep playing or not. Please share this rare insight with your friends and keep everyone healthy and happy!