Apr 13 2016
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer – that’s not a Golf Hall of Fame roster, but a list of professional golfers who swear by regular chiropractic care to improve their game and keep their bodies healthy. You can even add Vijay Singh, Fred Funk, David Duvall, and Mike Weir to that list. In fact, 72% of pro golfers utilize chiropractic care on tour, and chiropractors have been part of the official PGA Sports Medicine Team for decades.
But you don’t have to wear The Green Jacket or be a pro to benefit from chiropractic care. With more than 25 million golfers in the United States alone and about 24.73 million rounds of golf played at clubs worldwide every year, the number of swings, drives, chips, and putts were’ talking is at an all-time high.
But that’s also part of the problem – for pros and weekend warriors alike. In fact, a PGA tour chiropractor estimates that between 76-80% of all injuries that occur on the tour are to the lower back. And another 20-25% of injuries affect the neck, shoulders, elbows, and/or hips. What do these all have in common? They are all injuries that originate in the spine or pelvis, which is exactly what chiropractic focuses on.
In this two-part series, we’re going to focus on two things: chiropractic care to prevent injuries, and how chiropractic can actually help your game and lower your score.
Although we know you want to jump ahead to the information that can help your scorecard, we’re going to start with the part about injuries – because if you’re hurt, you’re not even going to be able to play golf.
The problem with golf
Golf is extremely hard on the spine, making injuries far too common. Swinging a club is a repetitive motion, but unilaterally torques the spine – which means the swinging movement is only on one side. Think of a weightlifter going to the gym and only lifting one side of the body and you get the idea how golf can throw the body out of alignment and disproportionally build some muscles, but strain tendons and ligaments as well.
But amateur golfers don’t use chiropractic enough
But research shows that less than 2% of amateur golfers visit a chiropractor for regular adjustments and treatment – until they hurt their backs or injure themselves and they are seeking relief from pain.
Even then, far too many golfers (as well as athletes and everyone else) try to treat their pain with aspirin, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, and visit MDs to get prescription painkillers. That only masks the problem – not truly heals it, nor does it prevent the movements that caused the injury or strain in the first place.
The effect of a golf swing on the spine
While professionals have near-perfect swing mechanics, keeping the spine neutral and balanced, amateurs too often swing in such a way that the torque of takes a huge toll on their spine.
Additionally, the muscles that support their spine (especially their core/paraspinal musculature) are usually weak and underdeveloped, though pros work hard to build strength, flexibility, and durability in their core. The ensuing imbalance to the spine invites frequent injury.
When your spine’s vertebra are not in the correct position when you swing a golf club (which can go as fast as 90 miles per hour), it causes profound strain on your muscles, ligaments, and discs. Keep doing this –a hundred times or well more during your average eighteen holes of golf, warm ups, and practice swings, and you basically keep stretching the muscles, ligaments, or discs to their limits, where they will start to deform and tear. At that point, the only possible result is muscle strain, ligament strains, disc herniations and joint trauma.
The dangerous myth about a golf swing
So why does the swing of an amateur golfer cause so much more frequent injury than a professional’s? Basically, because amateurs have incorrect mechanics, and even when they think they are practicing the right swing, they probably aren’t.
A lot of blame can be given to the myth of how to swing a golf club and where power generates that drives the ball further.
People are often taught that the speed of the club head once it strikes the ball is dependent on the spinal rotation during backswing. Basically, if you wind up like a pretzel and really torque your lower back, that will generate power and club head speed as you “uncork” during a swing. They often call it “x-factor,” describing the difference between hip position and shoulder position at the top of the backswing. By keeping the pelvis stationary while rotating the spine as much as possible, they think power is generated as the “big” muscles in the back are engaged during the downswing. Even golf instructors teach this. It’s incorrect.
The people who first advocated for this power-generation theory long ago never could account for how maximum spinal rotation actually engaged the spinal muscles or large back muscles like the latissumus dorsi. But we do know that spinal muscles provide only about five percent of the total torque generated during spinal rotation, and abdominal obliques do nearly all of the rest of the work, so the connection is a faulty one. But golf teachers keep teaching this method and golfers keep doing it, anyway.
How do we really generate power with a golf swing?
But the real way to generate power in your golf swing has to do with creating elastic energy (it’s not coincidence that elastic energy is thought to generate power in almost all sports movements) – not spine twisting torque.
Elastic energy is generated when your muscles perform a short, quick stretch during an athletic movement. In fact, the muscles that create elastic energy during a correct and powerful golf swing are the aforementioned latissimus dorsi, the rotator cuff, and even pectoralis major muscles, as well as smaller muscles in the arms and forearms.
Guess what? To pre-stretch these muscles into position to create elastic energy as you go through your golf swing, NO SPINAL ROATION IS NEEDED! In fact, the only real reason to rotate your pelvis or spine during your backswing is to put your body in position to effectively deliver the club head when it impacts the ball.
So now we know that all of the spine twisting in the world isn’t going to add power to your drive – though it will cause a slew of injuries over time.
Keep an eye out for part two of this blog when we explain how chiropractic can actually help your game, prevent injuries, and lower your score!