The grass on the front lawn may not be green quite yet, but that other green is already calling.
The fantasy of slipping out of the office, dusting off your clubs, and hitting the course for a few rounds dominates your workday. But being over zealous too soon could land you in the gallery -- and off the golf course for the rest of the season.
After a long cold winter, your body, like the earth, may still be thawing out and in need of some serious limbering and warming up. Be wary of your own enthusiasm. Assessing where you are physically and mentally before taking your first swing is the best way to prevent common golf-related injuries.
According to the Golf Fitness Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, golf tends ranks low on the injury risk scale compared to other sports, but injuries do occur.
The most common are in the lower back, shoulders, wrists, hips, and hands from repetitive motions, misalignment, and improper swinging mechanics. They caution that if any of these injuries, no matter how small, are ignored for too long, a more serious condition could result.
Dr. Joseph Bosco specializes in sports medicine, knee, shoulder and elbow surgery at New York University Medical Center. "The number one injury resulting from playing golf is back pain due to continuous torquing of the torso area when swinging the club," Bosco said.
He cautions that shoulder injuries are close behind. "For right-handed golfers, their shoulder injuries will be on the left side, and visa versa for left-handed golfers."
So, if you do not have the privilege of staying on par all winter, here are a few tips that can improve your physical and mental performance both on and off the green.
Core Strengthening: Although golf is not the most cardiovascular of all sports, it does require more strength than meets the eye. The great Jack Nicklaus once revealed the secrets to his long ball swing, "When I want a long ball, I spin my hips faster." However, physically, this easier said than done. The key to a powerful yet pain-free swing, like Nicklaus' is to strengthen your core and low back muscles. To do this correctly, Dr. Bosco recommends hitting up your local Pilates studio for some serious core strengthening classes.
Alignment and Balance: Standing on a solid foundation with proper body alignment is crucial for preventing injuries in any golfer. The placement of your feet, knees, hips, shoulders and head all work in connection to one another. If your feet are misaligned, most likely your hips and shoulders are too, increasing your chances of injury. Improving your balance starts with first knowing where to place all your various body parts to begin with. Taking a few golfing lessons at the beginning of the season to remind you of proper alignment will prevent torquing, keeping your shots out of the rough and reducing strain on your back.
Flexibility: According to the Golf Fitness Laboratory, the key body areas to focus on gaining more flexibility in are the back, hamstrings, hips and shoulders. If your hamstrings are tight then your lower back is probably feeling tight too. Along with a Pilates class you may want to jump into a beginner's yoga class as well. Yoga will stretch out all your tight spots, improve blood circulation, and ultimately increase your range of motion. After just a few classes you will be amazed by how much your swing has transformed and how youthful you feel.
Meditation and Breath work: The act of swinging and hitting the ball "on the sweet spot" takes an enormous amount of concentration and focus. Having a calm and relaxed mind to get into the "zone" will decrease tension and stress, and help you take your game to a new level. Over 600 studies have shown that meditation greatly benefits your entire nervous system, lowering anxiety and allowing you to focus and concentrate on your game with ease. "My ability to concentrate and work toward a goal has been my greatest asset," Jack Nicklaus once commented on the key to his golfing success.
And there is no reason why you can't also cultivate that same level of concentration with the help of meditation. But, don't forget to breathe! If you hold your breath while playing any sport, especially golf, your muscles will tense, your mind will go into "fight or flight" mode.
If you are holding your breath, the chances of injuring yourself while hitting a duff shot are significantly higher. Learning to steady your breath is key to your body, mind and golf game.
Strengthening your core, lengthening your hamstrings, properly aligning your body and centering your mind are just some of the ways you can better access your most optimal and fit playing potential.
It may seem like a tall order for just a round of golf, but being a good golfer takes patience, discipline and a deep desire to always want to become a better player. And as Tiger Woods has proven to us time and time again, "you can always become better."
FoxNews.com health writer Kyle Ellen Nuse contributed to this report.
For more great information on living healthy through every decade of life, click here to check out Dr. Manny's book The Check List (Harper Collins, 2007).
Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at FOXNews.com, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.