The Golfer's Body #1 - Soft Tissue & Joints Power Your Swing
Updated: May 20
Golf is an incredibly popular sport, with over 50 to 80 million people from around the world (over 136 countries) enjoying the game (1). The majority of these people are in search of the perfect golf swing, or are striving towards developing their most efficient swing.
Most patients already know about my history as a marathon runner, but I have also spent a lot of time on the golf course, trying to perfect my own swing. So I can completely empathize with their goals.
POWERING YOUR SWING
An efficient golf swing is a great example of how to generate power through the use of the entire body. For example:
The twisting motion of your body during the start of the golf swing produces an amazing amount of rotational force.
This rotational force increases the velocity of the golf club head, with the resulting force being directed into the ball.
The greater the speed of your club head, the more kinetic energy that is transferred to the golf ball. Professionals are able to achieve club head speeds of over 160 km per hour(2). Simply Amazing!
In addition to the energy that is directed into the club head, a considerable amount of force is also directed back into the body. For example, a 190 pound golfer will experience ten times their own body weight acting on their spinal structures (3,4).
This is a staggering amount of force, and is the primary reason why golfers - who are in poor physical condition - are so susceptible to back, shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries. About 15.8 to 40.9 percent of amateur golfers have injuries each year. Professional golfers have an injury rate of about 30 to 90 percent each year. Golf is NOT a low injury sport.
MAINTAINING GOOD TECHNIQUE
Good technique plays an important role in improving the efficiency of a golf swing and for reducing injuries. This is especially the case when we consider that an inefficient swing by an amateur golfer can generate up to 80% more torque and shear loads on the body when compared to the swing of a professional golfer(3,4).
The game of golf requires mobility, stability, and strength for optimum performance; thus developing good golf technique is only one part in your goal of improving the results of your golf swing. (5,6)
IS YOUR BODY READY FOR GOLF?
Do you think your body is ready for the golf season? Are your tissues strong, flexible, and mobile? Have you thought about the status of your bodies soft tissues and joints?
An incredibly important factor in optimizing your body's performance lies in the quality of the body's myofascial structures. As a clinician, working with patients on improving their golf performance, we should always ask ourselves:
Is the golfer's body tight, rigid, immobile, or weak?
Does their connective tissue have a good capacity to store and release energy?
If not, then the golfer has an underlying problem that needs to be dealt with in order for them to reach peak efficiency (and prevent injuries). Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to optimize the patients body, but first let's talk a little about Davis's Law.
DAVIS'S LAW - SOFT TISSUE REMODELS TO ADDRESS DEMANDS
Davis's law is used in anatomy and physiology to describe how soft tissue tends to remodel to address imposed demands.
For every action there is a consequence that manifests in the tissues of the body. Our connective tissue thickens, we may develop muscle imbalances due to bio-mechanical compensations, our nerves become entrapped, we can develop abnormal motion patterns, we lose our normal ranges-of-motion, and incredibly important to our golf swing, we lose our capacity to store and release energy.
Golf coaches really get this concept. That is why, in addition to their technique recommendations, they also advise you to practice specific exercises that improve your mobility, flexibility, stability and strength.
Unfortunately, even though exercise is a critical factor, it is often not enough to reverse the changes caused by many years of bio-mechanical adaption that has occurred from our personal history of injury. In addition, exercise alone is often not enough to reverse the consequences of the forces that an inefficient golf swing is placing on your body. The very game you love could also be perpetuating muscle imbalances, and restrictions.
Fortunately, there is a tremendous amount that manual therapy (soft-tissue and joint) can do to reverse these changes. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at the body's capacity to store and release energy. Especially one key structure, the Fascial Tensional Network and how it impacts this capacity.
YOUR FASCIAL TENSIONAL NETWORK
Fascia is often defined as:
“one interconnected tensional network that adapts its fiber arrangement and density according to local tensional demands.”(5)
When fascial tension is in good balance, fascia acts to distribute force throughout the body, and allows us to store and release energy for propulsion.
When fascial tension is out-of-balance, hypertensive, or restricted, fascia can greatly diminishes performance and leads to numerous injuries.
As we mentioned earlier, every injury or physical force that we experience transmits mechanical forces throughout the body. Over time, these forces eventually cause transcriptional (RNA) changes in the body, which in turn produce changes in our fascial architecture (it causes the fascia to remodel).
These changes can cause muscular imbalances, adhesion formation, fascial thickening, and decreases in mobility. It also affects a much larger kinetic chain; what may start as a dysfunction in one area can often cascade into multiple regions. This is why a golfer with chronic back pain will often develops a shoulder injury - largely due to the compensations the shoulder must make to compensate for the lack of trunk rotation.
APPLY RESEARCH TO YOUR GOLF SWING
Research has shown us exactly which anatomical structures are involved in performing each aspect of a golf swing. This is extremely valuable information for the practitioner, especially when we are trying to determine which anatomical structures are causing the inefficiencies in our patient's golf swing.
We can divide the typical golf swing into five specific actions:
Address to Top of Backswing.
Early Down Swing - Top of backswing to club horizontal position.
Late Down Swing - Horizontal club position to ball impact.
Early Follow Through - Ball impact to horizontal club position.
Late Follow Through - Horizontal club position to completion of swing.
If we are able to determine that a golfer is having trouble with a specific phase of their golf swing, then we can correlate this action to a specific set of anatomical structures, and then work on releasing them.
We often know the golfer is having problems with a specific aspect of their swing from the information provided by their Golf Pro (through videos, 3D Golf Swing Analysis programs, etc.), or even directly from the golfer.
Personally, , I like to get this information directly from the Golf Pro.
First is objective verification, since most Golf Pro's do a great job of recording their golf analysis.
Second, Golf Pro's are often able to provide specifics about the individual's bio-mechanical restrictions.
This lets me address specific structures associated with each aspect of the golf swing.
Once we, as practitioners have addressed the golfer's issues, we are able to send them back to the Golf Pro for re-assessment. This is a great way to obtain objective data that confirms that we have made functional changes in the abilities of our golfing patients. It also a great way to get involved in the golfing community.
An efficient golf swing involves more than just technique. If golfers want to achieve optimal results in the shortest possible time they must first address the quality of their musculoskeletal structures.
As a practitioner, I recommend you get to know several Golf Pro's in your area. You can use their expertise to determine which actions the golfer is having trouble performing; you can then implement an evidence-based treatment strategy to address those restrictions.
As a golfer, you should make use of soft-tissue practitioners who have the knowledge and expertise to implement these changes. It could make a huge difference in your performance and help you to prevent numerous injuries form occurring.
In Part 2, we will go over each phase of the golf swing and determine exactly which structures are primarily involved in performing each phase of the golf swing. This next blog provides technical information, but important information that is essential for all practitioners who treat golfers.
REFERENCES - PART 1
Farrally MR, Cochran AJ, Crews DJ, Hurdzan MJ, Price RJ, Snow JT. Golf science research at the beginning of the twenty first century. J Sports Sci. 2003;21(9):753–65.
Egret CI, Vincent O, Weber J, Dujardin FH, Chollet D. Analysis of 3D kinematics concerning three different clubs in golf swing. Int J Sports Med. 2003;24(6):465–70.
Gluck GS, Bendo JA, Spivak JM. The lumbar spine and low back pain in golf: a literature review of swing biomechanics and injury prevention. Spine J. 2008 Sep-Oct;8(5):778-88.
Adams MA, Hutton WC. The relevance of torsion to the mechanical derangement of the lumbar spine. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1981 May-Jun;6(3):241-8.
Hellström J. Competitive elite golf: a review of the relationships between playing results, technique and physique. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):723–41.
Sell TC, Tsai YS, Smoliga JM, Myers JB, Lephart SM. Strength, flexibility, and balance characteristics of highly proficient golfers. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(4):1166–71.
DR. BRIAN ABELSON DC.
Dr. Abelson believes in running an Evidence Based Practice (EBP). EBP's strive to adhere to the best research evidence available, while combining their clinical expertise with the specific values of each patient.
Dr. Abelson is the developer of Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems. His clinical practice in is located in Calgary, Alberta (Kinetic Health). He has recently authored his 10th publications which will be available later this year.
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