Updated: Feb 1, 2022
Anyone who plays golf has either experienced or known someone who has suffered with low back pain or stiffness in the midst of trying to master the game (or just enjoy a day off in beautiful weather). Believe it or not, the low back or lumbar spine, was really not meant to rotate all that much. However, when other areas become less mobile then we resort to getting our “turn” from the lower spine and this is where problems begin.
The area that should be doing the majority of rotation is our middle or thoracic spine. It is made up of twelve vertebra. and begins at the bottom of your neck running between your shoulder blades and ending at the level of the last rib. Believe it or not, it is actually designed to be twice as flexible as our lower spine!
Compare the normal range of motion in degrees between the two:
Flexion (bending forward) 50 60
Extension (bending backward) 45 25
Side Bending 40 25
Rotation 30 18
You will notice how much more of the rotation and extension components should be occurring at the thoracic spine. These two motions play a huge role in the game of golf, among a variety of other activities. The first 8 vertebrae (T1-T8) are actually the most critical for a golfer.
These eight levels provide more than HALF of the total back swing motion! The “shoulder turn” is directly related to the flexibility of the thoracic spine and slicing the ball is a direct result of lack of proper shoulder turn in the swing.
In addition, lack of thoracic spine extension will affect your pelvic position at address of the ball and force your hips to stay “tucked” underneath you. This dramatically reduces the power that can be generated into the hip turn in preparation for striking the ball, thus reducing distance (and putting a great deal of pressure over the lower spine)
There are a variety of things that cause our thoracic spine to become stiff. When this happens, we have to compensate to getting the rotation from our lumbar spine instead. This can set us up for low back injury and pain. Here are just a few of common contributors to tightness in the thoracic spine:
Sitting, working at a desk and/or computer for prolonged periods of time
Sleeping with too many pillows
Our spine naturally becomes less mobile as we age, so keeping this area of the spine becomes even more critical for golfers as they age. Tightness at the thoracic spine can not only affect your golf game, but can contribute to shoulder problems and neck pain as well. It can affect one’s tennis serve, yoga practice, or even the ability to stand up straight during walking or other exercise/activity.
Due to our technology driven culture, tablets, laptops, gaming devices and cell phones all cause us to be looking down with a forward head and rounded shoulder posture. This is the perfect mechanism for tightening up the thoracic spine. In fact, most people I see have some degree of thoracic tightness unless they make a point to combat this with activity and stretching.
I have put two of my favorite stretches for the thoracic spine on the Resources page, so please check them out!
You can also see your golf professional or a physical therapist for assessment and guidance as to how to stretch your thoracic spine.
Adding thoracic spine stretching exercises to your golf or general fitness routine can go a long way to avoiding a low back injury and help your golf game as well! P.S. You can also look taller :)
Stay Well & Feel Good,
*Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
Hi! I am Dr. Kim MacDonald. I am a physical therapist who specializes in empowering my patients to optimize how they move their bodies and improve their ability to do the things they love regardless of age, experience, or capabilities.
My experience in the health care field allows me to teach the tools you need to ensure that you are working safely to improve your pain and maximize your physical potential.
If you would like to know more about how you can help yourself be healthier and live a more active lifestyle, join me here