Reducing golf injuries

One
of the ironies of golf is that such precise non-contact sport also produces so
many injuries. 

During
the course of playing 18 holes, a golfer will take 70 to 150 swings – depending
on their ability. While practising on the driving range a golfer may take 50 to
100 swings over the course of just half an hour. 

Of
course this is not a one-time event; avid golfers will subject themselves to
this repeated stress several times a week for years.

The
golf swing is a complex movement with a great deal of movement occurring in the
spine. While performing the swing, the spine bends forward, bends to the side,
rotates, and then bends backwards all very quickly. 

The
average golf swing takes less the one second to perform and the club head is
travelling anywhere from 80 to 100 miles per hour.  

Injuries common

Approximately
77 per cent of all professional golfers reported having some type of low back
pain from golfing. Most professional golfers engage in sport-specific training
to meet the high demands of their sport. These athletes have excellent golf
swing mechanics and physical ability, yet a high degree of these individuals
suffer low back injuries. 

On
the other hand, the amateur golfer possesses less than excellent golf swing
mechanics and rarely trains for the demands of golf. It is easy to see how the
amateur golfer’s incidence of low back injury could be as high or even higher
than the professional golfer. 

The
majority of golf injuries are caused by poor swing technique resulting from
mechanical joint dysfunction, physical limitations, poor posture and decreased
flexibility.

To
prevent golf injury, it is necessary to have a fundamentally sound golf swing,
minimize swing faults, and perform golf specific exercises and flexibility
training. Golf-related injuries can affect virtually the entire body, but the
brunt of injuries are suffered by the low back.

The
golf swing requires the generation of extreme lumbar rotation. Baseball batters
step into their swing to translate force through their hips. By comparison, a
golfer’s feet are fixed in place – the only pivoting action occurs in the lower
extremities. This increases the potential for injury throughout the lower part
of the body.

Minimise injury

To
minimise injury to the low back, the golfer wants to spread out the rotational
stress over the entire spine and the shoulders. This can help to prevent over-stressing
the lumbar spine during the power phase of the golf swing. 

The
golfer must maintain control of his or her trunk by keeping the abdominal
muscles tense.  This will have the added
benefit of decreasing the potential for repetitive injury in just one area of
the spine.

To
drive a golf ball, a tremendous degree of muscular intensity is required. The
energy required is equivalent to swinging and striking a baseball hard enough
that it travels 300 feet. Frequently, the amateur golfer does not possess the
needed strength or technique to meet this sort of demand.

Golfers’
strength, flexibility and fitness levels determine their ability to maintain
proper form throughout the golf swing. 
Poor golf posture will restrict the ability of the golfer to rotate and
control club head speed.

It
is the inability to rotate that often causes golfers to swing too fast, over
emphasise their backswing and then over-swing, leading to injury.

A
controlled backswing creates the energy needed and the fluid movement necessary
for the golf swing. Surprisingly, a short backswing can create greater energy
than a big backswing.

Power
is not released in the backswing. Power is built in the backswing, but released
in the downswing.    

Elastic energy

Stretching
a muscle creates “elastic energy”, which allows for greater power. Elastic
energy is created by a change of direction, in this case when the backswing is
followed by the downswing.

This
is true in many other sports as well; we squat slightly before jumping up, pull
back an arm to deliver a tennis serve, etc. 

There
is a point where too much stretch leads to weakness and not greater elastic
energy. We don’t perform a deep squat before jumping, or reach way back to
deliver a serve. Over-stretching of muscle leads to a loss of the cross-bridge
fibres in the muscle, which is the very source of our strength. 

Therefore,
to generate optimum force for the golf swing, take a short backswing (to
maintain strength), but change direction as quickly as possible from the
backswing to the downswing (to create elastic energy).

Golf
presents a unique situation for injury. The injuries associated with many
sports have to do with high levels of compression or weight bearing on the
spine.

Golf
injuries tend to be due to torque injuries to joints. The golfer subjects his
body to a ballistic manoeuvre that creates stress on the entire spine, but most
especially the lumbar spine.

Dr. Jemal Khan is a chiropractor
based in the Cayman Islands.

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