The One80 Health Turn Around - Volume 2: The Body-Swing Connection

Golfer's Elbow: Understanding your body and using it efficiently in your golf swing

 

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My name is Michele Liew and I am the athletic therapist at ONE80 Health Clinic in Yorkville.  Coming from a competitive golf background, I have had multiple injuries throughout my junior career which have led me to further study the mechanics of the golf swing and its relationship to the body function. Having struggled to perform consistently on the golf course, I experienced severe medial epicondylitis and ulnar neuritis and it could have been avoided if I had treated it early and have rehabbed properly with correct mechanics. Being young and unaware, I just continued playing through the pain until I was unable to grip my club post-impact due to the pain and numbness shooting down my arm.  In my case, that led to a long hiatus from the sport I love and also caused me problems in other things I was doing, for example in using my hands to treat people and holding forceps for prolonged period in dissections. Epicondylitis commonly affects amateur golfers, often due to poor body mechanics and limitation that led to different swing characteristics.

“Hit the shot you can hit, not the one you want to hit“

Adjusting to the injury in order to return to golf was not an easy journey. It may be just an elbow injury, but even though the symptoms improved with treatment and rehab; as soon as I get back to golf, the impact of the ball and grass or mat immediately reproduce my symptoms and have often made it worse, requiring me to rest a few days. This led me to study what I am doing in my golf swing and how my body functions are related to the swing mechanics. Through testing and evaluation, I realized that I had many physical limitations that would explain why I swing the way I do. I have a strong lower body developed from other sports I have played, however, my upper body and shoulder stability are limited which caused problems in transferring the energy created from my lower body. As a result, I release the club too early and cause a steep downswing plane and angle of attack. This repetitive motion caused my wrist flexor tendons to eccentrically contract in a very short time at impact and overload them.

By understanding my physical strengths & limitations and how I was using my body in my golf swing, I was able to then design a corrective exercise program for myself to identify those weaknesses. Once I was able to have better stability in my hips, core and shoulders to more efficiently transfer my energy, I began to work with my golf coach on swing technique to make sure I am now putting all the pieces together. As a result, I was able to swing more efficiently and generate better speed while staying on plane to avoid the steep angle into impact. It was not only eye opening to me how improving body function can help improve swing mechanics; but also, how effectively it has helped my golf swing to allow me to be able to practice and perform more consistently without chronic elbow pain.

Here are the 5 things that I wish I was told to avoid chronic medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow):

1. Use your whole body in your golf swing. Golf swing is a high dynamic rotational movement. Use your whole body in your golf swing - rotate your hips and rotate your trunk to load in the backswing and unload like an elastic coil into the downswing. If you only use your arms to pick up the golf club in your swing, the chances of coming down in a steep swing plane is high and that can cause a disruptive force into your elbow tendons to stop suddenly.

2. Dynamic Warm Up. A few tips on warming up before a round of golf: work on separation and rotation. Holding your golf club for support in front of you, rotate only your hips and then rotate your trunk both ways to warm up the muscles for rotation. Also warm up your shoulders, elbows and wrist with different dynamic movements to increase circulation and range of motion.

3. Self treatment. A regular routine of stretching before and after play can help reduce tension in the muscles and tendons and allow you to use your body the way you can during your swing. Key muscle groups are wrist flexors & extensors, rotator cuff muscle group, trunk rotators and glutes.

4. Corrective Exercises. Once physical limitations are identified, corrective exercises to improve separation between upper and lower body, stability of hips and shoulders to avoid the steep downswing plane and early release of your wrist into impact. 

 Sweep the Dust - To help get into a right shoulder turn so you are not too steep

Sweep the Dust - To help get into a right shoulder turn so you are not too steep

 Tall kneeling step out and up with rotation - improve lower body stability while rotating over, maintaining good core control

Tall kneeling step out and up with rotation - improve lower body stability while rotating over, maintaining good core control

 Two Hand Top Spin - Using a frisbee or ball, work through the release of elbow and wrist at the right position

Two Hand Top Spin - Using a frisbee or ball, work through the release of elbow and wrist at the right position

 

5. Routine Swing Checks. Even though you may be playing well, it is important to always get routine swing checks to make sure you are not compensating for a limitation that could lead to another injury

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If you would like to know more about how to manage golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) or just have questions about how an athletic therapist can help you, feel free to contact me at michele@one80health.com.

Nick Tsaggarelis