BACK IN THE SWING OF THINGS
By Adam Clark, PT, DPT
Golf is a great game. It has been apart of my life ever since I can remember, literally. There is footage of little baby Adam running around in diapers knocking around a whiffle ball with a grey plastic golf club my father bought me. Golf even put me through four years of college at UT Martin. With all that being said, golf is very challenging, not only on the mind, but on the body as well, particularly the spine. If you’ve played the sport for any consistent period of time, more than likely, you have experienced some back pain or discomfort along the way.
My goal of this article is to share some tips I’ve learned along with some current research evidence on preventing and managing back pain throughout the golf swing.
As the late, great Chubbs Peterson said, “It’s all in the hips, It’s all in the hips.” If you haven’t seen Happy Gilmore you won’t get that, but there is a lot of truth in what Chubbs is saying. A lot of golfers, particularly male golfers, lack flexibility in their hips. A lot of research has suggested, that a lack of hip internal rotation mobility, especially on your leading leg (left hip for right handers and right hip for left handers), can cause extra stress on the lumbar spine. Golf requires a great deal of rotation from the body, especially during the through swing and follow through. Although your lumbar spine provides your trunk with the largest amount of rotation, it can only do so much. You can help your spine out by increasing your hip internal rotation (IR) mobility. Below is a link that demonstrates a stretch to achieve improved hip IR mobility.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GLUTES
Before the Tiger Woods era, golf and the weight room were never used in the same sentence. Now, virtually all tour players have their own personal trainers and are in the gym on a regular basis. Yes, a lot of the focus in the weight room is to improve speed and distance, but the importance of core stability and spine health shouldn’t be overlooked. Your core musculature, particularly your glutes and transversus abdominus, are responsible for unloading the forces of gravity away from your spine. Believe it or not, whenever you experience back pain, these muscles shut off and don’t activate like they’re required.
An EMG study performed on muscle activity throughout the golf swing showed that the glutes are arguably the most active of all your muscles throughout the golf swing. In the golf swing, the glutes are responsible for not only stabilizing the pelvis, but transferring the energy you have created from your lower body to your torso and eventually to the club head.
So how do we achieve improved glute activation? A simple bridge progression is a great place to start. Below is an example of a bridge progression from a simple double leg bridge to a more advanced single leg bridge. Progressing to more advanced exercises such as squats, lunges and plyometrics are also great ways to improve glute strength.
To finish up, these are just a couple pieces of a full workout program and are definitely not a cure-all for back issues. Believe me, I wish that was the case, but if you do experience prolonged back pain with golf or just back pain in general, don’t feel like you have to tough it out and deal with the pain. Consult your local physical therapist. We’ll get you back in the swing of things.
Mchardy A. Muscle activity during the golf swing * Commentary. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005;39(11):799-804. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2005.020271.