Biomechanical Analysis of the Golfer's Spine
Among professional golfers, low back pain is the most common complaint
among touring professionals in both PGA and LPGA tours. It is estimated
that 10-33% of touring professionals are playing injured at any given time
and that half the group will develop chronic problems. Low back pain has
also been cited by amateur golfers as the most common golf related injury.
Presently, there are more than 21 million recreational golfers throughout
the United States.
The modern swing, differs from the old classic swing in that it incorporates a more physically demanding swing mechanics,
which resulted in increased injuries for the less flexible and less
The classic swing originated in Scotland and was best used with a hickory
shaft. The classic-swing differs from the modern swing in few respects,
but important differences are noted on the effects of each swing on the
lower back. To summarize, the classic-swing uses a flatter swing plane having
a very large hip and shoulder turn. In the follow through of the classic-swing, the golfer
in a relaxed straight up and down position.
On the other hand, the modern swing promotes a creation of tightly coiled body
provide maximal energy for club-head acceleration and force. The
modern swing differs in that it restricts the hips to turn significantly
less than the large shoulder turn. On average, the hips rotate 1/3 of the shoulder
rotation. The modern swing also changes the horizontal balance of the
In the modern swing, the right shoulder is lowered more than
the left in the right-handed golfer. Additionally, the hands are held high
over the head in order to increase the distance in the downswing.
Another difference in the classic-swing, the golfer remains
vertically stable, straight up and down, termed the “I” position. In the
modern swing, the golfer finishes in a lordotic, “reversed
C” position. This reversed "C" leads to hyperextension of the low back, which adds
increased stress on the facet joints and paraspinal muscles of the lumbar
Studies of amateurs and professionals reveal that amateurs demonstrate
poor swing mechanics and as they swing harder, thus creating larger loads
and torsion. The professionals, on the other hand, demonstrated a
fluid and distinct "on and off" muscle firing pattern that is consistent
with a grooved swing that exhibits less force loads and tension of the
Compression loading on the lumbar spine occurs at two points of a golf
swing. The first compression load of the lumbar spine occurs in the
transition where the backswing turns into a downswing. The second
moment of high compression to the lumbar spine occurs when the hands pass
the waist and continue on the following through the highest compressive
forces occur at L3-4 level of the lumbar spine.
Increased loads to the lumbar spine during the golf swing as well as the
large forces generated by these muscles predispose the golfer to muscular strains, spondylosis, degenerative facet changes with associated
risk of herniated discs.
The importance of proper warm-up and stretching routines prior to play
cannot be overemphasized. The golf swing exerts a large force when
driving the ball in a matter of less than 1.5 seconds.
Cadaver studies helped identify the compression load that produces
prolapsed discs. An average compression load of 5448
Newtons produced a prolapse disc in cadavers. The spinal load generated by
swinging a golf club can range from 6000-7500 Newtons. Fortunately, the
speed at which the spine is loaded during the swing provides a protective
mechanism for the disc. A normal disc is well suited to withstand large
compression loads; however, a degenerative or dessicated disc loses its
elasticity and increases the susceptibility for injury.
In summary, the golf swing creates intense loading forces on the lower
back that are rapid and complex. The loading patterns are similar in both
amateur and professional golfers. Amateur golfers having poor swing
mechanics develop higher loads as compared to the professionals. By
incorporating proper mechanics, professional golfers have fluidity in
their muscle movement that increases their ability to minimize this force
on the spine.
The abdominal muscles may be the most important golf muscles, yet the
lease attentive by the golfer. These muscles promote posture and
balance and provide support to the spine. Increasing pressure in the
abdominals helps protect the back from injury.
The abdominal muscles are divided by the direction of where they are
located. The oblique muscles on the sides of the ribcage are
important in rotating the trunk as well as providing increased power
during forward acceleration. The transverse muscle acts like a
girdle to stabilize the trunk by compressing and increasing the abdominal
pressure. The rectus abdominis group allows bending forward and has
a lesser role during the golf swing.
Different muscles and different parts of the body have different roles in
the golf swing. It should be important to provide an appropriate
stretching and strengthening training to help optimize the performance of
Should you have any further questions
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the Doctor" section.
Copyright © 2004 - 2012Taras V.
Kochno, M.D. All Rights Reserved
Board Certified in
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation