Golf is a complex technical sport with millions of enthuasists. It is normal to find, even in the average local bookstore, a plethora of golf instruction books, feeding an apparently insatiable public demand for self- improvement in the game. And this is where many injury problems begin. Often the keen amateur will read a golfing tip in an instruction book or the local paper and will go to work on this down at the driving range. Not only do they not know if they are performing the drill correctly but they do not know if their body is actually physically compable of the new positions the drill is demanding of them.

It is probably a fair characterisation of the average amateur golfer that they spend a lot of time practising with poor technique and with a physique that falls a long way short of the strength, control and range of movement of the professional golfer.

Golf pros, in keeping with all the elite athletes, are spending more and more time in the gymnasium and on the therapist’s treatment table, so that they are able to improve their game without injury. Amateurs. by contrast, think nothing of the fact that they spend their working week learning over a desk, getting weaker and weaker, and then expect to be able to swing like Tiger Woods on a Saturday morning. They will usually play for a while bearing some degree of pain before ever seeking help.

The golfer with low back pain presents a challenging case to the sports therapist. Their golfing history and habit will provide valuable clues. Their handicap, for instance, reveals their approximate levels of skill and neuromuscular control. How long they have been playing will warn the therapist about how easy or hard it is likely to be to make changes to an entrenched poor technique.

The all-important swing

The golf swing makes heavy demands on two specific parts of the body:

  • the thoracic spine
  • the hip joint.

Both areas must combine sufficient range of movement with adequate muscular control to enable the golfer to move correctly through the various stages of the swing. If either region is deficient in range or control the resultant force will be directed through the lumbar spine, shoulder or knee – the most common sites of golfing injury amoung amateurs.

The key movement control issues for the back swing can be summarised as follows:

  1. Good postural set-up over the ball. This requires the golfer to bend at the hip joint, thereby recruiting the gluteal muscles rather than the lumbar spine.
  2. The gluteal muscles need adequate length coupled with good eccentric and concentric control. A good hip-joint range of motion is essential for the necessary golf swing.
  3. Good thoracic spine rotation is essential in order to wind up in the back swing and rotate through the shot.
  4. Overall coordination must be practised.