Getting Golfers Back on Course

The grass may be greener for golfers who improve the technique of their swing, especially if they’ve been feeling sand-trapped by low back pain. Low back pain is the reason most male golfers stay off course. Golfers’ low back pain has been linked to poor swing technique and the repetitive action of swings.

Researchers videotaped the swing of a 22-year-old male golfer with back pain. They used the video results to create three-dimensional images to plot markers of shoulder, hip, and spine alignment, and to monitor changes in the angles in these body regions as the golfer moved through his entire swing. To see how hard the back muscles were working during the swing, the researchers placed electrodes along the sides of the golfer’s spine.

The images showed several problems in swing technique. The golfer didn’t turn his hips enough during the back swing. He also tended to twist his hips more than his shoulders just before swinging the club downward. Then during the downward motion, he bent his spine too far forward and to the side because he tended to lead with his hips. The electrodes registered extra activity in the spine muscles in this part of the swing. The authors suggest that the awkward movement of the spine combined with the extra muscle activity could cause painful joint compression in the spine.

After the video sessions, the golfer received professional coaching for three months. He also continued doing a series of strengthening exercises for his abdomen and back muscles. The coach had the golfer move closer when preparing for the swing. He also taught better shoulder position. Then the coach worked on keeping shoulders and hips aligned to prepare for the downward motion of the club, and turning the hips and shoulders as a unit rather than leading with the hips.

After completing the coaching sessions, the researchers rechecked the golfer’s swing. The changes in technique were dramatically different from the first time he was videotaped. Instead of twisting his hips and bending his spine in the downswing, he showed good upright alignment of hips and shoulders. This new style helped him hold his trunk steady, and the spine muscles didn’t have to work as hard.  The authors suggest that these changes in alignment and muscle activity might ease torsion and compression on the spine. The golfer was able to resume his sport free of pain.

The authors conclude that helping players with low back pain to modify their technique and to take part in muscle conditioning exercises might help prevent problems of back pain among golfers.

Tomorrow’s Forecast for Back Pain Is . . . Uncertain

Forecasting weather is a more accurate science than determining if a person will have back pain in the future. Preventing back problems would be much easier if people could simply pass or fail a certain test. But it’s not that easy. Even though various tests have been tried in the past, the real question is whether these tests can accurately tell if someone will end up having a back problem. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of research to determine the tests’ usefulness. The results are a bit, shall we say, cloudy.

These clouds of doubt loom even larger considering the new information gathered in this study. Researchers looked at back pain in people who worked in either light or moderately strenuous jobs. People were divided into two groups: those with past back pain, and those who were pain free. Subjects went through common clinical tests and tests for back mobility and strength and lower body coordination.

The results were scattered between men and women and between the two groups. Men with less back mobility ended up having problems, but only among the group who were free of pain at the start of the study. Results were just the opposite for women. Women with too much back mobility ended up seeking medical help for their back pain.

Because of the wide variations in test results, the authors question whether the information from these tests is helpful in predicting future back pain. However, the findings did support the authors’ view that “persons with low functional capacity are liable to low back disorders and that those with existing disorders have an adverse outcome if their functional capacity is poor.” For now, the forecast for tomorrow’s back pain remains cloudy at best.