Back pain in golfers: The modern golf swing in the spotlight of the root cause

Back pain is a common golfer’s ailment. Studies show that the blame may rely on the way of teaching the golf swing nowadays.

The golf scene has a back. We are talking about back pain in golfers, one of the main reasons why physical therapy attention increases among those who practice this sport. Tiger Woods went under the knife because of it, Suzann Pettersen had to sit out for a while, Fred Couples has been plagued with back problems for years. Back pain in golfers is a very popular desease within the golf world.

Dr. Jim Suttie blames the back pain on the “New School”

In America, they have identified the culprit: the modern golf swing is said to be to blame. “It’s a back killer,” says Dr Jim Suttie, bio-mechanic and top 50 coach.
According to a 2008 study by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, 60 per cent of professionals and 40 per cent of amateur golfers suffer “permanent traumatic or overuse injuries”. Top of the complaints hit list: the lower back, followed by the elbow, shoulder and wrist.

The “right back” to avoid back pain in golfers

The modern golf swing, then. “The steep shoulder rotation and the hip blocked to build up tension, the enormous impulse from the legs and then the hip already bent in the direction of the target during the ‘impact’. Meanwhile, the right shoulder is still pointing below the left towards the ball, all this is not sustainable in the long run,” criticises Dr. Suttie from the USA. With all that goes into a swing, it is easy for golfers to develop back pain.

We ask the German golf coach Frank Adamowicz what he thinks of this assessment: “I can imagine it,” says the golf teacher and former national coach about the negative effects of the swing, “but to generalise is nonsense! A lot of things come together.” For him, the first concern should be if the cause is really the new technique or rather overestimation. The meaning behind is that one must also have the “right back” for the modern golf swing.

“Everything is about Tiger Woods now, but maybe he really did too much in the weight room and neglected his flexibility,” Adamowicz speculates. “After all, there are plenty who can!” Ernie Els, for example. Or Rory McIlroy with his enormous twist in the upswing and follow-through: “I don’t think he’ll ever get back problems.”

“Old school” takes pressure off the spine

The US PGA published a study years ago according to which one in three golfers has had to take at least two weeks off because of lower back problems. In 2011, it featured golf fitness expert Sean Cochran on its website, who said that statistically, one in two golfers will suffer a lower back injury at some point. Retief Goosen comes to mind, Dustin Johnson or Rickie Fowler. They all plague themselves with backs.

On the downswing, according to Cochran, there is a detrimental imbalance between the rotational speed of the hips and pelvis and the rotational speed of the shoulders and back, which is more than twice as fast.

They used to swing differently, the Nicklauses, Palmers, Hogans and Joneses. The “Old School” – the old school – allows the heel of the front leg to lift on the upswing to follow the rotation and weight transfer. This takes a lot of pressure off the spine and pelvis. “The classic 45-90 principle,” says Frank Adamowicz, “45 degrees hip rotation, 90 degrees shoulder rotation.” Nowadays, it seems, the tendency is towards a maximum of 30 degrees hip rotation, but preferably 100 degrees shoulder rotation. The trainer from the St. Leon-Rot Golf Club wonders “Many misjudge their possibilities. If the back is not really fit and strong, it doesn’t work.”

Long courses, brutal material

That’s how he handles students who want to swing like Tiger Woods. Adamowicz holds the eleven’s hips from behind and lets him swing up, rotating the upper body on the longitudinal axis against the rigid lower body. “The pain then shows very quickly that most of them don’t have the back for something like that.”

In the case of one or the other professional, Adamowicz estimates, “after a sports doctor’s examination they would probably also say: slow down!.” But firstly, some pros probably don’t handle their health very professionally, and secondly, the pressure to perform and the external circumstances leave little choice. “On today’s golf courses, you have to create stroke length at any cost in order to play the courses successfully,” says Adamowicz. “The material has become more brutal, I only mention the mega-stiff X-shafts as a keyword. Everything is too extreme.” Here, too, less means more.

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