Are You Shooting Your Game in the Foot?

The most critical two feet in golf aren’t on the putting green; they’re connected to your legs.

The feet are the foundation of sports, just like the foundation of the house. If the foot is not properly supported and aligned, not only does short term performance suffer, like the lack of speed and power in the swing, and later in life in foot, knee and hip issues. (correct ?)

In adults, many of the knee issues contributing to knee and hip replacements can be linked to fallen arches and the changes that makes in lower body alignment.

In juniors, this is a significant injury issue as well. With specialization in all sports occurring at earlier and earlier ages, more than 3.5 million children under the age of 14 are being treated annually for sports injuries. While junior athletes tend not to complain of foot issues, it does not mean they do not have them. Often these issues manifest themselves as inconsistent performance and aches and pains in other areas, so they are never traced to the root cause.

Having your arches fall is normally a sign of age, yet in many cases, it is a result from poor footwear choices, the lack of proper lacing, worn out golf shoes, and a general lack of understanding of sizing and in-shoe support for golf athletes.

The foot essentially has three arches—the medial, transverse and lateral. The lateral arch is normally what collapses in motion, resulting in a loss of balance, stability and power. The golf shoe can only partially make up for this lack of stability if the foot is unstable. What you wear the rest of the week is also important.

It has been estimated that 80 percent of people in the U.S. need orthotics, and my personal experience is this percentage is even higher with golfers because of the added load and rotational stress of the swing. In addition, at least 75 percent of people, including golfers, are wearing the wrong size shoes. You will perform better if you have the right-sized shoes, and will avoid future arch issues with proper in-shoe support.

Winter and spring are the best times to focus on the feet and proper evaluation: The weather precludes playing regular rounds and your feet are not swollen from the first month of the golf season, meaning you’ll get a better fit with golf shoes. The following list contains some simple remedies and tips to increase foot function, health and performance.

• See a doctor.
Have your feet medically evaluated every year for size, shape, structural soundness and tendencies in both basic standing and gait. This will determine your optimal shoe shape or “last” (straight, semi-curved or curved) and what kind of insert—a simple insole support or medical orthotic—you’ll need. Both shoe fitting and foot structure are specialized approaches, just like club fitting. Off-the-rack rarely works for most golfers.

Remember: golf orthotics are significantly different than street shoe orthotics. You might really need two to three different orthotics depending upon your golf and activity profile.

• Try right.
Once you get an orthotic or insole, always try on new shoes with that insole instead of the foam sock liner, as that level of support will change foot size inside the shoe.

• Freshen your footwear.
Get new shoes at least once per year. They take tremendous lateral stress and break down in support long before their appearance indicates.

• Buy two pairs.
This way you can alternate wearing shoes when you play in order to allow them to dry adequately.

• Avoid foot overuse.
Play or practice golf a maximum of four days in a row, then take off one day.

• Lace ’em up.
Make sure your junior golfer wears supportive shoes off the course, and have them laced properly at all times, as not lacing shoes is akin to flip-flops with no support.

• Vote conservative.
There is mounting evidence that minimalist shoes are not ideal for athletic training and performance, so err in the direction of more conventional shoes in both areas.

• Push it.
Walk the course with a pushcart, not a carry bag. The reduced weight will lower the actual stress on the feet by 20-35 percent.

Neil Wolkodoff, PhD is the Medical Program Director at the Colorado Center for Health & Sport Science.

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