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It Hurts When You Can't Play Golf

By: | Wed 20 Oct 2021 | Comments

WITH golf enjoying a boom just now it is all too easy to forget that there are those who have stopped playing the game for reasons beyond their control. A recent Golfshake Survey targeted at those who stated that they had stopped playing golf revealed that age and injury are contributory factors.

I want to share my own story with you because this is something I can relate to right now.

Some years ago I was playing golf and as I struck a drive I felt a shooting pain in my neck. I didn’t think much of it at the time but when we were sitting in the clubhouse afterwards I became aware that I couldn’t turn my head.

After a couple of hours it passed and I once again had full mobility. A couple of weeks later, the same thing happened again. This time it took about 24 hours before the pain went away. It kept happening and it got progressively worse. Eventually I went to see the doctor, who gave me a neck brace, the sort of thing people are expected to wear after a car accident. It was the height of summer and it was incredibly uncomfortable and it made no difference at all.

I was in my early 40s at the time and as the weeks passed I also began to experience back pain. I went back to the doctor. At the time, I had private health care. To cut a long story short, I was bounced from one specialist to another. Each and every one of them told me that there was nothing wrong with my back. 

That didn’t stop them sending me to physios, chiropractors and one of them even gave me a steroid injection at the base of my spine. It was the worst pain that I had ever experienced. And, as it turned out, it was completely unnecessary. And it did nothing to alleviate the pain I was experiencing. 

Anybody who has suffered from back pain will not need me to tell them how debilitating it can be. It wears you out. You don't sleep properly, you struggle to get up in the morning. It is exhausting and you feel utterly drained all the time. I don’t suppose it helped that I had a sedentary job, spending most of my working life in front of a computer.

Injured Golfer

One morning I woke up and my fingers were so badly swollen that I had to head to the fire station and ask them to cut my rings off. I will never forget that day - it was a Sunday. I went to bed that night, praying that the swelling would not go down so that I could see my doctor and show her. I was sick to the back teeth of being told that there was nothing wrong with me when I knew that there most certainly was. 

On the Monday morning things were no better so I called the surgery and was given an appointment. She took one look at me and told me that she was referring me to a consultant rheumatologist. 

The Answer

Days later I sat in front of him. He told me that he was going to arrange a series of X-rays but he was pretty sure that I had rheumatoid arthritis. I was mortified. I thought that life as I knew it was over. 

Eventually the diagnosis was confirmed and I was prescribed a medication called Sulphasalazine. I was told that I would be on it for the rest of my life.

I should say at this point that I hadn’t been able to play golf for months. And I missed it more than I can say. 

I started taking the tablets and woke up one day and realised that, for the first time for as long as I could remember, I felt no pain. The medication was working. And it continued to do so. I felt amazing. My consultant was delighted and informed me that there was no reason why I couldn’t start playing golf again.

I will never forget that first session at the driving range. I hadn’t hit a golf ball for the best part of 18 months. But now here I was swinging a club, pain-free. It was glorious.

I rejoined the golf club and started playing regularly again and quickly got back to the standard I had previously achieved. I even had some lessons to iron out a few kinks and started to win competitions - lots of them.

About three years ago I had a routine visit to see my GP. He looked at my medical records. “I want you to stop taking the Sulphasalazine,” he said. “You have been on it for too long.” I told him that I didn’t want to stop but he insisted, saying: “Let’s see what happens. Keep some tablets at home and if you do struggle then just start taking them again.”

Unbelievably, the pain did not return. For the first time in years I was not taking any medication whatsoever. And I felt fantastic. During last year’s Covid-enforced lockdown I was even able to start jogging. 

The Return of Pain

Earlier this year I began to feel some twinges in my feet. Within days I was struggling to walk. It felt like somebody was inserting red-hot pokers into the soles of my feet. This was a new pain and it was excruciating. Next came pain in my left wrist.

So it was back to the doctor. I was given some anti-inflammatories and they seemed to do the trick but I was also referred to another consultant rheumatologist. After extensive blood tests and X-rays I was informed that my rheumatoid arthritis had returned. I am now taking Sulphasalazine again.

But things have turned out rather differently this time. The pain in my feet has disappeared and my left wrist is just fine. But I am experiencing severe pain in my left shoulder. It has been X-rayed but I have been told that all they could find was “normal wear and tear”. Trust me when I tell you that this pain is not normal wear and tear. I struggle to dress and undress. Every time I lift my left hand above shoulder height I suffer severe shooting pain. I am now waiting for an ultra-sound.

The upshot is that, once again, my golf clubs are gathering dust in the cupboard. And I am hating it.

I love the anticipation of playing golf. I have always enjoyed hitting a few balls before heading to the first tee. I love being out in the fresh air. I love the challenge of threading a drive through an avenue of trees. I adore the company of like-minded people. I love the banter. I enjoy the challenge of trying to carve out a decent score while playing badly. Golf makes me feel good - and so do the people who play it.

I had always believed that as long as I could still walk I would be able to play golf and I am convinced that when the NHS finally gets to the bottom of what is causing my shoulder pain they will be able to treat it and I will be able to get back out there. And I can’t wait.

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