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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Avoiding those fairway turns for the worse

Tuesday, May 11, 1999
Jo Napier

People who love golf often pay for it. Jack Nicklaus has a tender spine. Fuzzy Zoeller's on a first-name basis with back surgeons. And when Tiger Woods's sore heel hobbled him a fortnight before last year's U.S. Open, many shared his pain.

Passion -- and the potential for injury -- are what amateurs and professional athletes have in common.

Each sport favours one set of muscles over another, and golf has its own walking wounded. Amateurs often run the risk of overuse injuries. While overused muscles are subject to chronic fatigue, leading to weakness, loss of flexibility and eventual injury, underused muscles tend to be weakened by time, placing tissues in adjacent joints at risk of injury. Common ailments are linked to poor technique and body misalignment -- bad moves that usually pave the way to inflammation and tissue damage.

Consider the hips. Golf strokes involve twisting. Many golfers fail to rotate their hips during the back swing; they generate power, instead, by sliding their hips back, then forward -- a move that places the spine in a vulnerable position when the twisting motion occurs later in the swing.

The bad news is that moving the body the wrong way over a period of time presents three problems: injury; the need to recover from the injury; and the need to retrain, and reform, to prevent a repeat performance. The good news: Most common biomechanical factors leading to chronic microtrauma and overuse injuries in golf are curable.

The ability to maintain your body in the correct "balanced" position, while going through your golf swing, requires intense neuromuscular control. Halifax physiotherapist Jill Tasker says many people -- because of injuries, disease and poor fitness level -- have lost their ability to maintain balance, especially in the follow-through position when most of the weight falls on one leg.

The solution? Devote some pre-play time to sport-specific exercises that focus on stretching, strength and balance.

The ability to stretch soft tissues is essential to mastering a great golf swing; without flexibility, the muscles are unable to perform to their maximum ability, resulting in a loss of power and a potential for injury. Many golf magazines offer basic strengthening programs for the major muscle groups involved in the golf swing. What most of them fail to emphasize, Ms. Tasker says, is the importance of how these muscles must work together to produce a smooth, dynamic motion.

Golf fitness is not heavy lifting. Look at Gary Player. Perhaps the first golfer to practise physical fitness vigorously on a regular basis, Mr. Player has logged 46 years on the pro golf circuit, winning 21 titles on the PGA Tour and 18 on the Senior Tour. At 63, he's considered to be one of the best-conditioned athletes in the world, and his daily workout routine -- which he does at home, in a hotel room or in the fitness van that accompanies golfers on the Senior PGA Tour -- is simple: calisthenics, flexibility exercises and free weights.

Here are a few moves that Ms. Tasker recommends to keep you from joining the amateur ranks of golf's walking wounded:

(Note: The address position, referred to below, is a very personalized thing, but here's a general description. Stand with legs comfortably positioned about shoulder- or hip-width apart and arms in front of your body as if ready to address, or hit, the golf ball with your club. Knees, elbows and shoulders should be soft [slightly bent]; arms are in "tee-off" position -- centred in front of body, with hands extended six or so inches in front of lower torso.)

STRETCHING
Backswing spinal stretch

Place golf club behind back and through crooks of elbows.

Take address position (but with arms still around the club).

Go through normal back-swing motion.

Move ends with one elbow pointing downward, the other upward, club suspended straight upward.

Hold at that point of stretch for 20 to 30 seconds; repeat several times.
Backswing shoulder stretch

Assume address position.

With arms in front of the body, where you would usually hold the club, cross hands over each other so that, instead of palms touching together, the backs of your hands are resting on top of one other; if you are right-handed, the left hand should be top hand. (Reverse hold if left-handed.)

Go through the full back-swing motion again.

When you feel good stretch through the shoulder, hold for 20 to 30 seconds; repeat several times.

STRENGTHENING
For lower body strengthening to improve address position stability, try this exercise:

Assume address position, emphasizing weight on inside of feet; hold elbows in close to body.

Hold dumbbells in both hands.

Move into a full stand-up position, bringing hands up; dumbbells should end up about shoulder height at side of your body.

Now bend knees and bring arms down as you move into a squat position.

Repeat two to three sets of 10 repetitions.

BALANCING
Level one degree of difficulty

Position yourself in follow-through posture, with weight on front leg, back leg raised off the ground a bit and arms extended in front of one side of your body. Hold arms in position where they would end up after completing a full swing.

Keep back leg raised and maintain balance.

Hold up to 30 seconds, and repeat move several times.
Level two

Position yourself in follow-through posture, with weight on front leg.

Lift back leg and maintain balance for as long as possible (up to 30 seconds).

Increase difficulty by closing eyes or pretending to lose balance by leaning in different directions; work to return to starting position.
Level three

Increase difficulty by holding dumbbell in one or both hands during level two exercise.
Level four


The same exercise but, instead of dumbbells, use a golf club; extend club out in different directions, and at varying speeds, to increase difficulty of maintaining balanced posture.

Repeat several times.



E-mail: jnapier@symatico.ca

GOLF'S WALKING WOUNDED

Hand and wrist injuries accounted for one-third of golf injuries. Tendonitis is the most common problem seen in the wrist and forearm.

The golfer may suffer two common elbow injuries: medial and lateral epicondelitis. Caused by faulty swing mechanics, or by strain placed on the elbow during repetitive swinging.

Repetitive overuse syndromes are the most common cause of injuries in the shoulder.

Injuries to the back, especially of the lumbar spine, are common in both professional and amateur golfers. The repetitive and increased rotational and compression forces placed during the swing affect the bone, discs, ligaments and muscles of the lower back.

RELATIONSHIP OF INJURY TO SWING
Take-away
This phase starts when addressing the ball. The golfer rotates the knees, hips, and lumbar and cervical spine while keeping the head relatively stationary.
Impact
Consists of the downswing and impact of the club on the ball. At impact 80% to 90% of the body's weight has transferred from the right to the left side (for a right handed player).
Follow-through
Both knees rotate and the back extends into a reverse C position
Source: The National Sports Medicine Institute of the United Kingdom.

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