Golfing woes: A comprehensive look at the golf swing and its contribution to low back pain
Health in Sports Report - Issue 5
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Golf is a popular sport for men and women of all ages, different shapes, sizes and physical abilities. Despite the many differences, there is no gold standard for the perfect swing. The golf swing has been described as not being a natural activity for the human body, yet so many individuals of different abilities participate.
If the golf swing is not a natural activity for the human body, many individuals participating in the game will sustain an injury at some point in time. For instance, low back pain has been classified as the most common musculoskeletal problem affecting golfers at both the amateur and professional levels. Many golfers attribute the occurrence of low back pain to one, if not all, of the following: overuse, poor technique and poor physical conditioning.
The nature of the game places demands on muscular strength, flexibility and muscle onset timing. Greater club head velocity generated at ball impact will result in an increase in kinetic energy, increasing the potential for further distance of ball travel. Thus, participating in golf can be problematic for any golfer who lacks the ability and/or skill to generate the appropriate club head velocity at ball impact.
As stated before, the golf swing requires flexibility and mobility, resulting in a number of movements to generate the appropriate amounts of trunk, the upper/mid torso and hip region, rotation. Professional golfers, in general, exhibit an approximately 45-degree hip turn with the back swing while maintaining good balance with minimal weight shift and a full 90-degree shoulder turn during the back swing.
Research has shown that less skilled and older golfers have less trunk rotation compared with younger and more skilled individuals. Regardless of the available trunk rotation, amateur and professional golfers generate a large amount of torque throughout the trunk region, requiring muscular strength and conditioning to optimize swing performance while providing stability to the low back. There must be a balance between maximizing the torque-producing capabilities of the larger superficial muscles while maintaining spinal stability with the smaller, deeper muscles. An imbalance in muscle strength or onset time in either muscle group during the golf swing may result in low back injury.
It stands to reason that as an individual plays a round of golf, repetitive swinging of the golf club, walking up and down hills and constantly bending over for several hours will progressively produce fatigue. Trunk musculature has been described to be better suited to provide low levels of activity for long periods of time rather than shorter, more violent bursts of activity. Due to the ballistic nature of golf and the fact that trunk muscles are designed for maintaining posture, these muscles may be susceptible to fatigue.
Muscle fatigue may compromise low back stability, placing an individual at an increased risk of developing a low back injury. A good regimen of core stabilizing exercises and functional exercises that promote good golfing mechanics reduce the risk of injury. It is paramount that golfers realize their physical ability with regard to mobility and craft their golf swing and exercise regimen within their own physical limits.