Golfing Injuries – Shattered Shoulder

Cautionary Tale – Beware of Slippery Golf Courses!

A golfer can sustain a plethora of golfing injuries during a round on their favourite golfing track.

These include back strains, muscle tears, wrist injuries, ankle ligaments and hip displacement.

It’s something that can befall even the most cautious of golfers.

Following a recent debilitating slip while playing, long-term Social Golfer member – Steve Slater – shares with us his golf injury, the diagnosis, and his recovery.

Steve Slater - The Social Golfer

It was a sunny day in September

It was a bright sunny Saturday morning in September. After weeks of pleasant warm weather, I embarked on a trip to Stevenage Golf Centre

This saw me standing innocently on the first tee around 09.30 am. 

Underfoot, the ground was firm but dew-ridden, so, the spikeless shoe had been selected for this day.

Our day started well, Par 4, on the green in two, putting for birdie, ended with a Par.

The second hole at Stevenage is a downhill Par 3 with an upturned green and steep slopes. I hit the second greenside bunker and strolled down to the green.

Unsurprisingly, given the conditions, one of my playing partners slipped on the sodden fairway on the way down. This should have been a clue as to the danger ahead.

Meanwhile, I had ‘an easy’ bunker shot, which would leave me a short putt for Par. 

Golfing Injuries - Stevenage Golf Course

My Fall – I heard the ‘crack.’

Approaching the bunker, I took care to get a firm footing. However, on exiting the bunker, I misjudged the slope.

This resulted in an immediate loss of balance, and I fell down the inside slope.

Landing heavily on my right shoulder…ouch! (I remember the crack). Luckily, I had managed to avoid landing on my head.

After a brief assessment (and some apologies to the players in the 4-ball behind) one of my playing partners assisted me back to car park and thence to Lister Hospital A&E.

Fortunately, I was fast-tracked through the NHS procedures. I was quickly Triaged, X-Rayed, and sent to sit waiting for a consultant’s review.

However, upon asking the Radiographer if it was dislocated or broken, she indicated that it was a ‘significant’ break.

Some hours later the Consultant confirmed that it was “a bit serious.”

The Injury – The diagnosis

The ball at the top of the humerus had shattered to pieces, the largest of which had traversed into the chest cavity wall.

Worse, the ball, was resting on a pulsating blood vessel surrounded by a nest of nerves.

Unsurprisingly, shock now started to kick in. I started to realise; that I was lucky to be alive.

Later that afternoon, I was admitted to an emergency ward in preparation for the trauma to come.

Unfortunately, being a weekend, the upper limb repair specialists, were not available in Stevenage Hospital.

And Addenbrookes Hospital could not fit me in either.

So, an uncomfortable stay until Sunday, when the top man for Upper Limb Reconstruction came in to say, that he had seen the X-rays, and I needed his expertise. 

When cheekily I asked the obvious question “Will I still be able to play golf again?”: he indicated that it was unlikely.

Golfing Injuries - Humerus - Shattered Shoulder X-ray v1

My Surgery – “I can’t feel anything!”

On Monday morning (the day of a doctor’s strike), he had assembled a top team, and I was taken into theatre.

I awoke 5 hours later, a little concerned, as I could not feel anything from my right shoulder down.

Once the ‘nerve block’ medication began to wear off (and while still under the influence of Oramorph), the top man came in to report.

The damage was significant, and a total ‘Reverse Shoulder Arthroplasty’ had been performed.

This is where the ball part of the joint was screwed into the clavicle, and the socket part was inserted by a long spike down the humerus.

Thankfully, the surgical team had taken great care removing the remains of the shattered joint.

Overall, they were pleased with the apparent outcome.

The Recovery – Understanding my injury

With time on my hands, I had opportunity to research the potential for recovery for these types of golfing injuries.

As far as I could make out, the only published data was based in the USA. Which concluded that in 90% of cases, the majority had returned to golf within 12 months. 

In addition, some golfers had actually seen significant improvements. But recovery was to be a prolonged process.

It involved having my arm in a sling for 6 weeks, and intense Physiotherapy. My Physio’s instructions were to work ‘just before the pain’. And safeguard the new joint as much as possible. 

No driving, no lifting, no housework, food cut up for me and assistance required for personal matters too.

Despite this set-back, I am delighted there was a positive future, my concern was, how long would recovery take.

Will I be able to play like I used to?  Would I be restricted in any way? Or would I now be a better golfer?

Nearly six weeks on from my operation and the sling could be dispensed with. I began my physiotherapy and it has continued since.

Golfing Injuries - Recovery Exercises

I also have progressive exercises that are now a part of my everyday life and will remain in perpetuity. 

My research suggested that after 4 months or so I could resume putting. After 6 months I could resume Chipping. 

However, a return to using longer clubs would require a little more patience.

Looking ahead – back on the fairways

Further research reveals that the recovery and subsequent return to golf of those enduring Reverse Shoulder Arthroplasty, are likely to take a couple of months longer than other golfing injuries.

Therefore, I predicted a return to golf courses would not be before May 2024. However, I wanted to, and expected to play sooner.

On March 11th, I had my final surgical review, and I was discharged. 

Just 5 months after my fall, I would not require another review of my shoulder for 12 months.

In reality, I was back on the golf course by the end of March!

So, what have ‘we’ learned?

Obviously, I have learnt that a spiked shoe is (probably) a safer option in wet weather.

And it is good to have friends around you when you are in distress. I was lucky on the day to be playing with good friends.

In addition, a positive can come from a negative, with the right mindset you can overcome most golfing injuries.

This episode has given me time to work on a new swing, although a return to winning ways may be a little way off. 

I shall of course, enjoy (and savour) every opportunity I now get to play.

Finally, having always been a big supporter of ‘disability golf’ (especially The Cairns Cup via The Social Golfer), I have enrolled in the European Disabled Golf Association.

I’m looking forward to learning how others have coped with their golfing injuries and hope to share in the camaraderie the disabled golf community enjoy!