In the Swing

Golf is ideal sport for people with hemophilia
Author: Matt McMillen

Perry Parker’s father introduced him to golf when he was 10 years old. Parker took to it so well that he turned pro in his early 20s. Since then, Parker, 43, has competed in golf tournaments all over the world, unhampered by his mild hemophilia A. In fact, the game he loves is a good sport for anyone with a bleeding disorder.

“I learned early on that golf was a game that I could physically do and not get hurt,” says Parker, who fondly remembers playing with both of his parents and his grandmother when he was a boy. “It’s physical activity, but it is low risk. That’s a perfect combination.”

“Overall, golf is very stress-free on the body,” says Sara Strawn, PT, of the Arizona Hemophilia & Thrombosis Center in Tucson. According to the National Hemophilia Foundation’s booklet “Playing It Safe: Bleeding Disorders, Sports and Exercise,” golf is among the sports considered safe for people with bleeding disorders. And, as players and physical therapists point out, golf is a rewarding sport on many levels.

“If you walk, you will get more exercise,” says Strawn. “But even if you can’t walk the whole time and have to use a cart, you will still get the social and emotional benefits of being outdoors and among friends.” Since some courses don’t permit the use of carts, be sure to check your course’s policy when making plans to play.

“It’s a great social game,” agrees Parker, who teaches golf at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California. Many of his students are children and teens with bleeding disorders. A number of them now play high school varsity and college-level golf. Parker co-hosts CSL Behring’s annual Gettin’ in the GameSM Junior National Championship, an event for children with bleeding disorders that features golf and baseball clinics.

“I always tell players with bleeding disorders that they need to go to their treatment center and talk to their physical therapist about a stretching routine,” Parker says.

To prepare your body to play, Strawn says, stretching is essential, especially for the shoulders, hips and lower back, which can be problem areas.

“You don’t want anything in that kinetic chain to be off,” she says. “For my patients with tight hips or back problems or other trouble spots, I educate them and give them very specific exercises for their areas of weakness.”

“Swinging a golf club,” she says, “works your shoulders, abs, arms—your whole body.”

Strawn will watch her patients swing in order to pinpoint problem areas. She will then recommend exercises accordingly, such as those that build core muscle strength. To strengthen his own back and abdominal muscles, Parker works out with a Swiss ball, a type of exercise ball; he does sit-ups as well. The rest of his workout includes lifting weights to build and maintain his arm and shoulder muscles and riding a stationary bicycle.

Getting into the Game

Parker and Strawn recommend that new players sign up for a few lessons to help them get into the game.

Doing so will help make sure you play with the proper form. Because swinging a golf club requires coordinating your shoulders, hips and knees, doing so incorrectly can put undue strain on any or all of these joints.

“The majority of my patients have given golf a try,” says Strawn. “I always recommend they talk with a specialist first to learn to hit the ball correctly in order to avoid injury.”

Parker says that taking three to five lessons should be sufficient to get started. But don’t expect to hit too many holes in one. Parker warns that it will take some time to really get the hang of hitting the ball. On average, six months to a year of regular practice are required before young players are really doing well. Older adults take even longer.

“Golf is a tough game to master,” Parker says. “The key is getting lessons so that you know what you are doing. It also requires a lot of muscle memory, so that the movements you learn come naturally. That comes with practicing at a driving range one or two times a week. If you don’t get out there regularly, you lose it.”

But once you get into the game, it’s something you can play for the rest of your life. Individual players set the pace, so it can be adapted to all ages and skill levels. In fact, one of Parker’s best memories is of teeing off with his grandmother when he was younger.

“It’s great to see kids getting involved in a sport that they can play their entire lives,” says Strawn.