Of the 25 million golfers in America, up to 62% may suffer an injury related to the game. Low back pain (LBP) is the most common injury in professional and amateur golfers; repetitive swing motion and poor swing mechanics are thought to be the primary reasons for injury.
A common belief in golfers is that the more their shoulders rotate back during the backswing portion of a golf swing, the better their swing will be; this position places the spine under a great degree of stress, however. The authors of this study hypothesized that a restricted backswing that incorporates more shoulder activity may reduce the odds for injury without harming performance levels by eliminating excessive spinal rotation.
Seven subjects who normally demonstrated a full recoil backswing (involving a shoulder turn of at least 90 degrees with a restricted hip rotation) were fitted with an electromyographic (EMG) recording device to measure muscle activity. EMG electrodes were placed on the lumbar; external oblique; latissimus dorsi; and right pectoralis major muscles. Subjects hit 10 balls consecutively for maximal distance using their typical swing, while a swing indicator measured club head speed and accuracy. Next, subjects were shown how to modify their swing to incorporate a shorter backswing; they were allowed to practice this swing for 20-30 minutes, at which time data were recorded as they hit 10 more golf balls.
Results: A backswing shortened by an average of 47 degrees did not significantly affect club speed or stroke accuracy. The target spot on the clubhead also remained the same. However, EMG activity was reduced 19% in the right oblique before impact; 12% in the left lumbar during acceleration; 21% in the right latissimus during activation; and 14% in the left lumbar during follow-through. EMG activity in the shoulder muscles increased as golfers compensated their swing.
These results are important because many golfers may not want to change their swing mechanics to reduce their odds for LBP if it might cause decreased game performance. The authors point out that although a reduced backswing may help prevent back injury, it could possibly lead to a less-debilitating shoulder injury.
Bulbulian R, Ball KA, Seaman DR. The short golf backswing: Effects on performance and spinal health implications. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2001:24(9), pp. 569-575.