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Optimum Performance: Avoiding common golf injuries like Tiger Woods’ ailments require balance, flexibility and strength

Last Sunday I read with interest Dave Anderson’s column in the sports section of the New York Times — “If Woods Were Healthy, Oh, the Places He Could Go.” Anderson lamented “this was supposed to be the year when the stars were aligned for (Woods) to win another major (tournament) or two.”

Last week Woods withdrew from the Masters, as a result of spine surgery to correct a pinched nerve that has affected his swing more so than previous knee or leg ailments. He is not driving the ball past his 300-yard mark from previous years. Back spasms, quoting Woods, “are a totally different deal.” Adding to problems, Wood said, “there are certain moments, certain movements, you just can’t do.”

Looking back at Woods’ history of injuries, it started in 2007 after the British Open, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. That was followed by a double stress fracture in the same leg in 2008, after the U.S. Open. He also required season-ending knee surgery.

Not to be outdone, six months later Anderson noted Woods tore his right Achilles’ tendon. In 2010, an inflamed disc in his neck halted the final round of the Players Championship at the seventh hole.

Then in 2011 at the Masters, Woods sprained his left knee while hitting a shot, which was followed by a withdraw at the Players Championship as a result of previous knee and Achilles tendon issue haunting his performance.

Finally, 2012 saw Woods succumb to a left Achilles tendon that ceased his play at Doral followed by a left elbow strain at the AT&T National in 2013. As you can see, golf has its own set of injuries to contend with along the path to greatness — even if you are not Tiger Woods.

The National Golf Foundation reported, as of 2012, there were 29 million people who played at least an 18-hole round of golf that year. Of that number, 77.5 percent were men and 22.5 percent female players. The largest age group playing golf were between the ages of 40-59 years old.

According to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, low back pain is the most common injury or complaint among both professional and amateur golfers, followed by injuries to the upper extremity (elbow and shoulder). Elite golfers can generate club head speeds of over 120 miles per hour on impact.

By the way, it appears that golfers who carry their own bag have twice the incidence of back, shoulder, and ankle injuries compared to those who don’t to carry their bag. The shoulders tend to be susceptible to impingement syndrome (bursitis and tendonitis in the shoulder).

When a golfer addresses the ball, he or she does so at 47 degrees of forward flexion (bend) with 16-18 degrees of lateral (side bend) flexion, depending on the grip. Add to fact that golfers who have inflexible hips are subject to lateral sway (unnecessary motion during the back swing) and more challenges are placed on vulnerable parts of the human body, such as the lumbar spine.

Conquering golf in a relatively injury-free environment requires optimal balance, flexibility, and strength, which are needed to maintain the coordinated movement of multiple body segments.

As with so many sports, strength and flexibility occurring in the hips, pelvis and lower back requires a strong core – more than just the abdominal muscles. Controlled rotation on a fixed axis with the dissipation of the club head on impact much like a pitcher must do upon ball release is a critical component to injury risk reduction in golf.

The golf swing — the set-up, backswing, transition, downswing, and follow through — must be synchronized to prevent a power leakage in this kinetic chain of events.

Here is a tip from my friend Pete Draovitch, Greg Norman’s physical therapist and developer of the PAC Total Golf Program.

Assume a golf stance in front of a mirror. Hands are placed across chest while hinging at the hips, and not bending at the back. Then rotate, loading the back leg, keeping the upper body in a backswing position, while you attempt to rotate your hips to initiate motion. You can remain in an upright position to decrease stress. And, do not create discomfort.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams, has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. He is St. Charles Parish Hospital’s Fitness and Wellness expert. Contact him at

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