6: Golfers with a neurological condition – multiple sclerosis (MS)
As a golf coach, you may encounter various neurological conditions that will require an element of research. Here are the key considerations for a player with the neurological condition – multiple sclerosis.
Typical MS symptoms can include:
- Issues with balance and walking
- Muscle spasms and stiffness
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Low mood, anxiety and depression
- There are lots of options for treating and managing MS. These include medication, exercise, physiotherapy, diet and alternative therapies. Research tells us exercise can improve people’s mood, mobility and muscle strength, as well as some other MS symptoms. Golf therefore can be an excellent sporting option for people with MS.
Research from the EDGA player database confirms that golf can:
- Help manage MS symptoms, including fatigue, balance and walking
- Improve mood & well being
- Improve overall health when MS is mild
- Help someone stay as mobile and active as possible when MS is more severe.
- Decrease the risk of other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes If someone is training or being active with MS, they could experience many different symptoms from day to day or even within the same day or same activity.
- Every day can provide a different challenge, and as a golf coach you need to be ready to put your skills to the test and constantly assess, by watching and listening to the person, and modifying any golf session when the participant shows or communicates anything untoward.
- People with MS tend to know their own symptoms very well and a change in symptoms might not happen during the session but later. It is therefore important to ask how people were after their last session and be prepared to adapt your next session from their feedback.
- MS affects people in different ways, so what works for one person might not work for someone else.
- Dealing with symptoms: Start off slow and continue to get feedback from the student.
- People with MS tend to become fatigued very easily, so start slowly. As with any unconditioned person, the intensity of the coaching session has to fit the fitness level of the individual.
- The coach needs to exercise patience and exercise a balance of trying not to push for too much too soon, while providing a level of intensity that will challenge the client toward a higher level of play.
- Be creative and do not over complicate coaching as concentration of a player with MS can vary.
- Check for understanding via regular questioning.
- One of the symptoms often experienced by people with MS is neuropathy, or numbness in their hands. This sometimes presents itself as a feeling of ’pins and needles ‘and make holding the golf club difficult be prepared to adapt and explore alternatives in handle size, material or specialist gloves.
- Another symptom can be bladder and bowel issues. Some practical suggestions would be to ensure people know where the nearest toilets are and to ensure people have time to go to the toilet during the coaching session, if necessary, possibly build in ‘rest’ breaks and provide shaded rest and seated areas.
- Keeping cool. It is also very important for people with MS to stay cool during their golf sessions. Heat is not a friend of MS and overheating can and does worsen symptoms. Some practical interventions could include:
- Encourage people to wear light, loose fitting clothes which can be ‘added’ too if required i.e. layers.
- Break-up exercise sessions into smaller sections, with regular breaks and provide a seating area.
- Suggest consuming ice drinks, wearing a ‘cooling vest’ and taking a cool bath before exercise, to help to exercise for longer.
- Keep the coaching space well ventilated if delivering an indoor sample golf session. A fan might help avoid overly hot areas and seek driving range shade if outside; ideally temperature is below 29ºC.
- Optimise both training schedules and playing schedules to maximise rest cycles and minimise fatigue – for example it would not be recommended to deliver a coaching session to an MS player after they have played 18 holes.
- Maximise the efficiency of your sessions – concentrating on one learning outcome over a short period of time – for example you might divide your session into 15 minute blocks of instruction and application.
- MS can influence spacial awareness and depth perception – so be prepared to manage and incorporate regular aim and alignment exercises.