Brace your back, golf is now a con­tact sport

Back in­juries to stars such as Tiger Woods blamed on train­ing regimes that re­sult in spinal ‘crunch’

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Henry Bod­kin SCIENCE COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Golfers now hit the ball so hard the strain on their backs is equiv­a­lent to play­ing Amer­i­can foot­ball, a study re­veals. The game has ef­fec­tively be­come a “con­tact sport”, ex­perts have said af­ter re­view­ing changes to the way mod­ern play­ers swing their clubs.

GOLFERS hit the ball so hard the strain on their backs is equiv­a­lent to play­ing Amer­i­can foot­ball, a new study re­veals.

The game has ef­fec­tively be­come a “con­tact sport”, ex­perts have said af­ter re­view­ing changes to the way mod­ern play­ers swing their clubs.

Pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Neu­rolog y: Spine, the study found that in con­trast to the “re­laxed down­swing and fol­low-through” of his­tor­i­cal greats such as Jack Nick­laus, mod­ern pro­fes­sion­als aim for an ex­plo­sive re­lease of en­ergy that cre­ates a “crunch” ef­fect on the spine.

This is equiv­a­lent to the com­pres­sive force of about eight times the av­er­age hu­man body weight, or the im­pact of a block­ing tackle in Amer­i­can foot­ball.

“Con­sid­er­ing that the av­er­age [pro­fes­sional] golf player takes more than 300 swings per day, the long-term ef­fects are not triv­ial, par­tic­u­larly for a sport that al­lows for decades of par­tic­i­pa­tion,” the au­thors wrote.

The pa­per fol­lows the suc­cess­ful come­back from back in­jury of Tiger Woods at the Masters last April af­ter years of de­bil­i­tat­ing spine pain.

The 14-time ma­jor cham­pi­onship win­ner per­son­i­fies the mod­ern-era player who fo­cuses on strength train­ing, par­tic­u­larly of the core, in or­der to get the club head mov­ing at about 130mph, ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts at St Joseph’s Hos­pi­tal in Ari­zona.

This is com­bined with new tech­niques en­cour­ag­ing play­ers to ro­tate their trunk in re­la­tion to their hips so as to store up elas­tic po­ten­tial en­ergy, which is un­leashed in the down­swing.

“As a con­se­quence of these fac­tors, we be­lieve that mod­ern golfers, par­tic­u­larly elite play­ers who fol­low in­tense strength-train­ing reg­i­mens to let loose the enor­mous po­ten­tial of tightly wound mus­cle fi­bres, are re­peat­edly trau­ma­tis­ing their lum­bar spine,” the study said.

It found that pro­fes­sional golfers were suf­fer­ing from back prob­lems in­creas­ingly younger. Back dis­or­ders af­flict roughly 55 per cent of pro­fes­sion­als and 35 per cent of ama­teurs.

Dr Corey Walker, who led the study, said: “We be­lieve Tiger Woods’s ex­pe­ri­ence with spinal dis­ease high­lights a real and un­der-rec­og­nized is­sue amongst mod­ern era golfers. Repet­i­tive trau­matic dis­co­pa­thy (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 spe­cialised fash­ion go­ing for­ward.”

Other cur­rent top golfers who have been af­fected by back in­juries in­clude Ja­son Day, Hunter Ma­han, Danny Wil­lett, Dustin John­son and Rory Mcil­roy.

In the UK about 1.5 mil­lion adults play golf at least once a week.

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