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Is Your Golf Swing Setting You Up for Injury?

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Although approximately 30 million Americans play golf, it comes with the risk of injury to the neck, mid and lower back, upper extremities, hips, and knees.  During an average 18 hole game of golf, a golfer will take approximately 70-150 swings with an opportunity to injure themselves with each swing.  In fact, a study of PGA players showed that approximately 77% of all professional golfers report having acute or chronic low back pain from golfing.  Considering the amateur golfer typically has less than excellent golf-swing mechanics and rarely trains year-round in order to golf, it is reasonable to assume that the amateur golfer’s incidence of injury is as high as or higher than that for the professional golfer.  The majority of golf injuries are usually caused by poor swing mechanics resulting from physical limitations, poor posture, and decreased flexibility.  Therefore, it makes sense that golf injury prevention requires building a fundamentally sound golf swing, reducing golf swing faults, and performing golf-specific exercises and flexibility training.

When addressing the ball, the golfer should assume a stance of about 45 degrees of forward bending of the low back and have the neck in a neutral posture.  Excessive bending at address can result in straining the muscles of the spine.  In addition, poor posture while addressing the ball will restrict rotation of the spine and decrease club head speed.  This restriction in spinal rotation causes golfers to swing too fast, have an accentuated backswing and over-swing.  All of this can lead to injuring the back muscles or even the discs.

In order to prevent you from injuring yourself with your golf swing, let’s discuss what to do:

Grip

To grip the club properly, the thumb and forefinger of each hand should form a V.  The V’s formed by the thumb and forefinger of each hand should be parallel.  Typically, the forefinger of the lead hand is interlocked with the pinky finger of the trail hand.  A proper grip is one in which the club is held firmly by 5 fingers:  the middle, ring and little fingers of the left hand, and the middle and ring fingers of the right hand (for a right handed golfer).

Setup/Address

To address the ball properly, let your arm hang.  Your arms should hang under your shoulders and feel relaxed when you address the ball.  Your hands should be closer to your body for leverage.  You should be looking in at your hands, not out at them.  Don’t feel as if you are reaching for the ball.  A bad setup leads to a bad backswing which leads to trying to correct the problems on the downswing.  At address, your lead shoulder should be higher than the other and your head should be behind the ball.

Backswing

A controlled backswing, where the hands, arms, shoulders, hips, knees and feet all move in rhythm is necessary to create the kinetic energy and smooth movements necessary to initiate the golf swing.  Unless you possess incredible flexibility in the shoulder and hip joints and unrestricted ability to move the spine, a short backswing will create greater kinetic energy than a big backswing.  Power is not stored in the backswing.  Power is built in the backswing and released in the downswing.  Therefore, a big backswing isn’t necessary.  Shortening the length of the backswing to a ½ or ¾ backswing will create more power.  To generate optimum force from your golf swing, take a short backswing and then change directions as quickly as possible when you go from the backswing to the downswing.

For a right handed golfer:

During the initial movement of the backswing, the left shoulder moves across the torso until the shoulder joint reaches its end range of motion.  This movement is followed by upper torso rotation.  Individuals with poor shoulder and upper torso flexibility will attempt to compensate during their backswing by bending their left elbow thereby collapsing the arc of the backswing, or lifting their head or torso.  Ultimately, at the top of the backswing, you want a straight left arm and a right arm which is bent at 90 degrees at the elbow. 

When visualizing a backswing, think of the body as having 3 parts stacked on top of each other:  the top portion: the shoulder which rotates the most; the middle portion:  the hips; and the lower portion:  the legs which remain stable. 

Downswing

During the downswing the left arm should be parallel to the plane line of the ball and the target.  During the downswing, the body uncoils from the legs to the hips to the shoulders.  Low back muscles only contribute about 5% of the total force involved in this movement.  The oblique abdominal muscles are the primary rotators of the trunk and responsible for most of this movement.  Ultimately, the backswing creates energy and the downswing releases it.

Pivot Foot

The right handed golfer must position his right pivot foot 90 degrees perpendicular to the plane line of the golf swing.  The maintenance of a strong, stabilized pivot foot allows for the creation of the energy needed for a forceful golf swing.  If your right pivot foot is not perpendicular to the target line of the golf swing then energy is lost and the golf shot will have a tendency of going offline to the right.  Weakness of the gluteus muscles (buttocks muscles) which helps to stabilize the hip and knee joints and the quadriceps muscles (front thigh muscles) which are the primary weight supporting muscles during the backswing, will destabilize the right pivot foot causing offline golf shots.

Ball Impact

At impact, the right shoulder (for right handed golfers) moves under the chin and the hips rotate on a level plane.   The position of the left hand directly influences the position of the clubface.  At the moment of ball impact, the left hand should be flat and facing the target.  Any movement of the left hand out of proper impact position will cause the clubface to not be square which will cause an offline shot.

In the end, a balanced follow-through and finish is the hallmark of a good golf swing.  At the finish you should be facing the target.

 

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