Lower back, hips, knees, shoulders and necks. These are the 'top 5' joint areas of the body that can potentially suffer from the greatest amount of wear and tear when you play golf. And, as the 1st PGA Tour Physical Therapist, it was very important that I learned how to understand the root causes of these common joint pain problems if I was going to be helpful in treating and preventing these golf-related conditions on tour.
Thankfully, I was blessed to have a very wise mentor early in my physical therapy training process who taught me,
"Find the symptom(s), and look elsewhere for the cause(s)."
Because when it comes to golf and the forces that contribute to the gradual breakdown in golfer's joints that the medical system diagnoses as 'Degenerative' or 'Osteo-arthritis, the solution to treating and preventing this common condition in all body areas comes from looking beyond the areas of pain and addressing the real cause...
When the tour players would come to me with debilitating pain and stiffness in their lower back, hips, knees, shoulders or neck and want me help relieve their pain in their symptom areas to enable them to play golf more comfortably, I would always tell them,
"You MUST strengthen your CORE."
OK... it was understandable why the payers on the PGA Tour were confused... just as you may be a bit confused right now... when I emphasized strengthening their 'core'.
After all, it was their knees, hips, and lower back that were hurting. Right?
And, up to then, every time they'd sought professional medical help for treatment of their painful joints, the treatment always directly targeted the symptom areas... not the core!
Treating the symptoms makes logical sense, and it's totally OK to do so as modern therapeutic treatment modalities do often help to relieve symptoms - BUT - treating symptoms exclusively 'does not' actually cure and/or prevent the actual root cause(s) to the problem! To do so, you must "look elsewhere"!
Believe me, as someone who suffered from my own lower back, knee and ankle problems as a broken down basketball player for over 25 years, and became a physical therapist, in part, to help resolve my own problems... I learned how to r
ehab myself using the same secrets I'm about to share with you just to prove that these methods actually work... better than 'any' other treatments that only focus on the symptoms!
I learned it the hard way... s
o that you don't have to!
Let's get started. Here's what you'll want to know...
What is your 'CORE'?
Your core is the general region of your body that involves the muscles and joints located in the center of your body:
- your hips and back
- your abdomen
- your shoulders and chest
- your diaphragm
- Your pelvic floor
- and yes, your butt ('glute') muscles
Your core also includes your entire spinal column.
All proper posture at address and full swing golf motion begin in the core.
A weak or unstable core in golf sets you up for all kinds of instability, forcing your other joints during to carry loads during your full golf swing they weren't designed to carry.
A strong core is the key to a mobile, balanced body, allowing all your joints to glide freely and easily when you play golf.
In short, your core is a system of 29 pairs of muscles, and your rectus abdominus (abs) or, or 'six-pack', is just one of them.
Unfortunately, many golfers overwork their abs - particularly their 'upper' abs and neglect their other core muscles.
That's a recipe for imbalance, instability, and pain. Therefore, l
et's take a deeper look at how these important muscles work to protect you from degenerating joints and pain.
1) Your Shoulders
Your shoulders are an extremely complex joint and you use them in your full swing as the connection from your core to the golf club.
This makes them vulnerable to a variety of injuries if you're not moving properly (rotating) in your core and only swinging your arms around your body.
Your shoulders will also need to load as you reach the top of your backswing for maximum power in your swing but a strong
rotects your shoulders by activating the abdominal muscles, shoulder blade muscles and bracing your entire spinal column.
The core stability gained from your shoulder blades supports your shoulder joint rotator cuff muscles so they can engage to stabilize your upper arm bone (humerus) during the transition from your complete backswing to your forward swing and through impact.
Strong core muscles safely generate the power you need, without damaging your shoulder joints.
2) Low Back Pain
Generally speaking, if you're a golfer with lower back pain, you need to improve your upper/middle spine mobility and strengthen your core.
Why? The rotational demands of the full golf swing should be mostly provided through the upper and middle portions of your spine, and your hip joints, while your
core muscles should be stabilizing your lower spine and pelvis.
In contrast, when you don't have the necessary core strength and stability, combined with poor functional mobility (balance between flexibility, strength and stability) in your hips and in your upper/middle spine, then you will will develop lower back pain as you continue to play golf.
Specifically, poor core strength during the full golf swing stresses the ligaments, which connect bone or cartilage to other bone or cartilage, forcing pressure into our SI (sacro-iliac) joint instead of the appropriate stabilizing core muscles.
The solution to ending and preventing low back pain requires you to re-engage and strengthen your core muscles to support your sacroiliac joint and allow it to function the way it was designed to...
as a joint... not a weight-bearing structure!
3) Bad Posture
Your core strength and stability determines how you carry your body both 'on'
and 'off' the golf course. T
here is a vicious feedback loop between a weak core and poor posture.
Weak core muscles make it hard for you to carry yourself in a tall, neutral position. And, a
persistent slumped posture further weakens your core muscles.
To compensate, your head tilts forward and down, causing your shoulders to roll and your chest to sink. In turn, your pelvis tilts in, forcing your stomach and your butt out.
Your knees turn inward to compensate, destabilizing your feet... and for women, wearing heels makes this even worse!
The chain reaction of weak core muscles turns every joint in your body into a weight-bearing structure. And, over time, with no resolution to the 'slippery slope' regressive relationship between core weakness and poor posture, a golfer will experience one or more body areas of degenerative joint pain and dysfunction.
The good news! Do you know that j
ust by spending a few minutes each day, you can develop a strong core? A strong core
that enables you to assume a 'straighter' spine at address and your joints can, once again,
glide easily with each other, without pressure, friction and pain... even if you are older, and if you've already been told by your doctor that you have arthritis.
Good address posture
And... here are two more important keys:
4) Hip Pain
Your glutes, the big muscles in your butt, abductors and adductors, and your hip flexor muscles are all part of your core.
When those muscles are weak, the strain of making repeated, full speed and full motion golf swings is transferred to the ligaments in your hips, which in turn is transferring load to the hip joints, distorting the hip joint's normal structure and function.
Under such circumstances, your hip joints grind into your pelvis.
5) Knee Pain
The above mentioned chain of weakness from your hips also extends down to your knees when you golf. And, because your knees are two relatively isolated joints that must bear almost the entire weight of your body, they are extremely vulnerable to weakness in your glutes, hip and other lower core muscles.
One of the most frequent mistakes I see people make (that I made myself for many years) is to focus on engaging the quads... the big muscles in the front of your thighs... and under-emphasizing the use of your glutes. When you don't strengthen and engage your glutes and effectively rotate your hip joints when you golf, you will force your knees to bare the brunt of the rotational stress in your full swing... f
orcing your knees to grind away at the cartilage, then the bone.
For further learning about these keys, specific golf fitness solutions to help you build a stronger core, and an entire section dedicated to the most common golf swing faults and fixes, you may like to check out my new eBook:
Yours Partner in Success,