Golf is a sport. Athletes play sports. As such, if you play golf you are an athlete, or at least you have to perform athletic movements. As a chiropractor I think in terms of biomechanics, and golf is complicated biomechanically. The golf swing involves your entire body, not just your back or your arms or your legs. One concept that helps to describe something like this is the Kinetic Chain concept. All these body parts are linked together and work together to perform the golf swing. If there are inefficiencies in this chain, then other parts of the chain will take on more stress to make sure the job – the golf swing – is done.
Golfers who come to see me often complain of lower back pain. This can be caused by a variety of factors, sometimes joint pain, or what we call facet joint dysfunction. It can also be caused by some type of disc injury, like a herniation or a derangement. Another possibility is a muscular or myofascial injury. Usually it is a combination of some of these things. These conditions are what we call the “patho-anatomical” diagnosis – the specific tissue in your body that has been injured. This is one of the main purposes of the examination I perform when a golfer comes to my chiropractic office for treatment. I first need to figure out what has been injured and develop a patho-anatomical diagnosis. Then, we try to figure out what is happening functionally to contribute to this injury. This is the functional diagnosis. In other words, what are the inefficiencies in your kinetic chain that are causing the joints, discs, or muscles in your lower back to become overloaded and injured? Over the past 10+ years of being a chiropractor, I’ve noticed patterns that appear with certain types of injuries. I’ll discuss two of these patterns, or kinetic chain inefficiencies, and how to address them with some simple stretches below.
Weak Link #1: The hips
When we are looking at a lower back injury, the first place we need to look for functional problems are the areas immediately above and below the lumbar spine. We’ll start with the area immediately below the lower back, the hips. During the golf swing there is a lot of rotation that comes from your spine and without looking closely you might assume all of your rotation comes from your spine and trunk. But in order to rotate your trunk that much, your hips also need to be able to swivel otherwise you will not be able to rotate enough to create a powerful and efficient swing. On your backswing, your front hip will rotate externally, and your back hip will rotate internally. On the downswing and follow through they will rotate the opposite direction. If they don’t carry their share of the load, then your lower back will have to pick up the slack. Multiply this inefficiency over hundreds or thousands of swings (depending on your handicap, ha!), and you can see why you’re lower back could be upset.
Weak Link #2: The thoracic spine
We already discussed the area directly below the lumbar spine. Now we’ll talk about the area directly above – the thoracic spine. This is your mid back. There are 12 thoracic vertebrae, and each has a rib connecting to it on either side. The fact that these vertebrae connect to the rib cage makes this region of the spine a bit stiffer than the neck and lower back, so it may seem like it shouldn’t rotate as much as the lumbar spine, but the fact that it has over twice as many vertebrae means that overall it should rotate more than the lumbar spine. Unfortunately many of us live sedentary lives, or at least spend much of our day sitting – at work, in the car, at the dinner table, on the couch watching Netflix, etc. All that sitting can cause us to lose the ability to move well in our thoracic spine. It will tend to get stuck in a flexed-forward position, which prevents those vertebrae from extending and rotating well, which are two motions very important to the golf swing.
What can you do about it?
Just as it takes reps upon reps at the driving range to perfect your swing, it takes time and repetition to gain mobility. This is why it takes more than one visit to the chiropractor to get better. It’s also why one session of a 30 second stretch won’t get me very far toward my goal of being able to reach my toes. While it may take time and consistency to reach the goal of more mobile hips and mid back, it shouldn’t be complicated. For this reason I’ve put together a short video demonstrating a few easy, quick stretches you can do to loosen up the “kinks” in your kinetic chain to help you swing better and feel better during and after golf.
If you have any questions about this article or about chiropractic care for golf injuries, back pain, or hip pain, give us a call at 503-526-8782 or visit our home page at catalystchiroandrehab.com and click the “Schedule Online Now” button to schedule your evaluation and find out where the weak links are in your kinetic chain.