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Golfer's Spine Mechanics

 

Back injuries account to up to 50% of all injuries sustained by men who play golf. Golfers’ back problems usually can be attributed to one or more of the following: excessive uneven bending or twisting, jerky mechanics or muscular weakness. Of the three, muscular weakness is the most critical. Strong muscles stabilize the spine. The stronger the muscles supporting the spine, the more protection one has against twisting or jerky motions that can cause injuries.

In a right-handed golfer, the muscles to the left of the spine contribute significantly to swing speed. In the right-handed golfer, the muscles on the right of the spine help to absorb the decelerating forces that bring the golf club to a stop during the follow-through.

The abdominal muscles provide protection to the spine. When the abdominal muscles are strong, they allow for more flexible back muscles. With better-conditioned abdominal muscles, the spine will be effectively supported with more flexible lower back muscles that reduces the risk of back injury.     

Low back pain was identified as the most common musculoskeletal affecting amateur and professional golfers. Professional golfers reported 63% of injuries related to the low back whereas amateur golfers only reported 36% of all injuries to the back. It is obvious to attribute poor mechanics, excessive practice and poor physical conditioning to amateur golfers;  however, these factors are minimized at the professional level.

Although both the abdominal and low back muscles work together to contribute to the rotation of the trunk and stability to the lumbar spine, the abdominal muscles tend to fatigue more easily than the low back muscles especially in individuals with low back pain.

Hip and shoulder rotation during the golf swing of low handicap players was studied.

The motion of the shoulders, arms and the club during the golf swing has often been modeled as a double pendulum motion. Instructors in books often refer to an optimal range of shoulder rotation of 90 degrees during the backswing. Remarkably, studies on low handicap golfers showed that the shoulders actually rotated in excess of 90 degrees during the backswing, and in 75% of the golfers continued rotating away further to as much as 132 degrees with the average being 109 degrees +/- 12 degrees.

Studies show that during the backswing the shoulders continue to rotate to the endpoint and prior to reaching this endpoint the hips initiate rotating back 0.1 seconds prior to the shoulders reaching their optimal end range.

Timing of the golf swing showed that 78% of the swing time was taken in the backswing whereas 22% of the time was in the downswing.

The study also addressed hip rotation. It has been assumed previously that the proper hip rotation should be around 45 degrees. The elite golfers rotated anywhere from 35-48 degrees with the mean being at 37 degrees +/- 9 degrees. It has been reported that Tiger Woods has a hip rotation of only 35 degrees with a shoulder rotation of 110 degrees. This compacted rotation increases the coiling for the spring prior to unwinding through the downswing motion.

Rotation of the both the hips and shoulders away from the target begins immediately after the address, with the shoulders rotating more rapidly than the hips. The maximal shoulder range of 102 degrees +/- 16 degrees was greater than the 90-degree angle that had been advised in previous studies. In movement patterns near the end of the backswing, the hips initiate the downswing. Leading with the hips allows an eccentric-concentric sequence of the spinal rotators. This allows the hips and shoulders to rotate in opposite direction before they both rotate back toward the target. This stretch-shortened cycle increases the acceleration of the shoulders. 

To summarize, proper mechanics, flexibility and conditioning all play a role in the golf swing.  Properly prepared, the risk of injury is minimized.

 

Should you have any further questions regarding this article, please direct your questions or comments to "Ask the Doctor" section.

 

Copyright © 2004 - 2012Taras V. Kochno, M.D.  All Rights Reserved
Board Certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

 

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