English pro Ian Poulter had been dealing with nagging arthritis in his right foot for more than two years when the condition finally became too much to bear.
Three years ago, he was in too much pain to walk or even practice, which led to a serious decline in his game. When he missed two straight tournament cuts and dropped to No. 85 in the world golf rankings – his lowest since 2003 – during a Ryder Cup season, Poulter knew he had to tackle his condition.
Poulter ended up missing four months, including the Ryder Cup, but knew that if he didn’t step away, the consequences could become much more serious.
“Right now, rest and rehab take priority in me returning to full strength later this season,” Poulter – who is currently ranked 29th in the world – said at the time. Poulter has two career PGA Tour wins and has finished as high as tied for third at an event this season and has career earnings of more than $24 million.
According to Dr. George Holmes, foot and ankle surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, golfers, as with other athletes, are frequently plagued with arthritis plus other lower extremity conditions such as Achilles tendinitis, ankle tendinitis and plantar fasciitis. Dr. Holmes noted that golf can aggravate these foot and ankle disorders but they are more commonly associated with basketball, football and tennis.
However, if golfers do experience arthritis in the foot and ankle, it can impact their game as it did in the case of Poulter. Arthritis is a condition that is characterized by the stiffening and damage to the joints that can affect more than 30 joints in the foot and ankle. These joints connect the bones in the foot and ankle and provide the rest of the body with balance and stability.
While there is no cure for arthritis, many treatment options exist that can slow the progress of the disease and relieve symptoms that golfers might experience. Symptoms vary depending on the type of arthritis, but the most common ones are pain that tends to flare up with increased activity, joint swelling, warmth and redness — as well as increased swelling and pain after periods of sitting or resting.
Patients may experience difficulty in walking as the condition worsens. A physician may suggest a change in activity level, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, or devices that may help to provide support for the foot and ankle.
In Poulter’s case, he was able to avoid surgery and managed the pain through a series of cortisone shots. However, the combination of continuing to play through the pain and the shots could have potentially become detrimental, according to his doctor.
“We feel that the best option at this stage is to take some time off to allow complete recovery and rehabilitation of his foot,” Dr. Ara Suppiah said at the time of Poulter’s injury, adding that continued shots could risk the thinning of the bones and possible stress fractures.
“This will give (Poulter) the best chance of returning to the game sooner and preventing further deterioration of the affected joint.”