While golf is a sport that most play leisurely on the weekends, serious injury can occur without proper form and preparation. The golf swing involves multiple moving segments (your arms, legs and the golf club) around one stable link (your core). A breakdown in any one of those segments can ruin your day and even your season. Additionally, swinging a golf club requires moving at a very high speed in a short amount of time, increasing the risk of injury; velocities occurring at your hips to your arms range from 500-1200 degrees per second.
Gregory Reinhardt, physical therapist certified by the United States Golf Teachers Federation, goes through the phases of a swing with proper technique and form to ensure your round is injury free:
1. Stance setup, or address: Address the ball with feet shoulder width apart, knees semi-bent and trunk (buttocks and back) semi-flexed, with shoulders square to the ball. Try and keep your shoulders down and back by activating your posterior shoulder muscles, pulling them slightly towards each other. Your abdominals should be engaged (think of pulling your navel/belt buckle area up towards your chest) and 60% of your weight should be on your back leg.
2. Backswing: The average length of time in a backswing is less than one second, so you need a lot of control from your core muscles, arms, and hips to pull it off successfully. The triangle made from your shoulders to the club shaft should be maintained until the club head passes your back foot. Then your right arm should bend at the elbow while your trunk rotates back, keeping your posterior shoulder and hip muscles engaged.
3. Downswing: Your downswing is the part of your swing where the highest torques (turning or twisting forces) are created, and that puts your body at the highest risk for injury. Your front hip initiates your downswing by shifting your weight to the front leg, activating your posterior hip muscles. Your center of gravity should be in front of the swinging club, with shoulders staying square to the ground and abdominals fully engaged to provide control. Keeping your knees bent is critical to prevent your front shoulder from lifting prematurely. Most players try to overpower the ball during the downswing, increasing the use of their arms and chest muscles. This leads to incorrect body angles that put excessive strain on your spine, hip and shoulder muscles.
4. Follow through: As your swing is finishing, your muscles are trying to slow your body down and absorb all the forces. Your trunk should end up facing down the fairway in slight extension, with the majority of your weight on your front foot. Balance, strength and stability are critical to prevent over-rotation and excessive motion/strain throughout all the segments of your swing.
You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Proper preparation before, during and after play is important to keep your muscles loose and properly engaged to prevent injury. A pre and post stretching routine should be followed, as well as exercises to ensure proper muscle activation patterns. During play, be sure to keep hydrated and stay loose between swings. Most importantly have fun and don’t over do it!
Gregory Reinhardt, PT, MSPT, has worked as a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery since 2008. Greg has a specialized focus on hip and spine pathology and the rehabilitation of golfers.