Whether you’re a golfer yourself or just enjoy following the game’s greats, there’s no doubt you’re aware of the struggles that have plagued Tiger Woods in the last several years. Woods has long been hailed as one of the greatest players to ever play the game, but his winning streak came to a sudden and long-lasting halt when he began suffering chronic back problems. It’s only recently that he has returned to his old form, and in the meantime, he has undergone numerous back surgeries.
The attention that his medical issues have attracted have put the spotlight on the impact that the game has on the spine, and has raised questions about why classic golfers from decades ago didn’t suffer the same types of back problems. A recent study has taken a closer look at the difference between golf today and golf as it was played in the past, and has concluded that it is as much an issue of the way that golfers today swing their clubs.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, was conducted by physicians from the renowned Barrow Neurological Institute, the Phoenix-based facility known as the world’s largest neurological disease treatment and research institution. The researchers compared the way that golf legends from the past — including Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus — swung their clubs to the way that modern players do. They have identified today’s “X-factor” swing as being responsible for a significant additional strain on the players’ spines.
The X-factor swing is said to help golfers send the golf ball much farther down the fairway. According to Golf Magazine, what is different about the swing is in the way that the player moves while on the downswing. It starts by rotating the hips towards the target at the moment that the shoulders are completing the backswing turn. While the move adds significant force, it also puts extra strain on the spine, and when performed hundreds of times each day as is the case with a professional golfer, the increased force on the spinal disc and facet joints leads to constant microtraumas, and eventually to a diagnosis of repetitive traumatic discopathy.
Among their study’s conclusions, Dr. Corey T. Walker wrote, “We believe Tiger Wood’s experience with spinal disease highlights a real and under-recognized issue amongst modern era golfers. RTD results from years of degenerative ‘hits’ or strains on the spine resulting in early onset breakdown, instability, and pain. We hope medical practitioners, and surgeons in particular, will be able to diagnose and treat golfers with RTD in a specialized fashion going forward.” Of particular concern to the researchers is the fact that the golfers that they observed were suffering back issues far earlier than same-aged non-golfers.
Classic golfers have been making this point for several years, arguing that by swinging smoothly rather than with the forceful, violent motion that is currently in favor, athletes will be able to play the game far longer and without pain. Others argue that those who take the time to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the spine will not be affected.
If you are a golfer who has been plagued by chronic back pain, our lumbar spine specialists can offer your significant relief. Contact us today to set up an appointment with one of our physicians.