Golfers from beginners to professionals agree that the mechanics of a swing are complex. And if you golf, you have probably experienced a certain discomfort or stiffness in your back during or after a session. Your back has many demands put on it during the swing: flexing, extending, rotating,side-bending, and more. Too much lower back rotation during the back swing and follow through has the potential to cause lower back pain, which not only affects your ability to do everyday tasks, but could cost you time on the golf course! Adequate motion in the thoracic spine will help decrease compensatory motion in the golf swing and helps keep you playing golf. Oh, and there is the added bonus of gaining distance off the tee, which every golfer wants!
Maybe you have heard the term “t- spine” before. What exactly is that, and why does it matter to you? The “t-spine”, or thoracic spine, is the group of middle twelve vertebrae in the back that handles most spinal rotation. For some anatomical reference, your ribs attach to your thoracic spine, along with many muscles that help stabilize your back.
Thoracic rotation is one of the main ways we generate power in our golf swing. But many golfers have limitations in the mobility of the thoracic spine, particularly thoracic rotation. These limitations can also affect other areas of the body; for instance, the thoracic spine can contribute to neck, shoulder and even hip issues in addition to lower back pain For our discussion, we will focus on how lacking mobility in the thoracic spine limits your golf swing, and how to get better motion from the thoracic spine.
Here is quick over view of how the hips and lower back can also negatively affect the swing.
As any golf instructor will tell you, practice is important for timing, sequencing, and overall control of the swing. But by performing these simple exercises, you will improve your mid back rotation, where you generate a lot of your speed and power. Add these simple exercises into your routine to improve your t-spine mobility!
Thoracic Extension assisted by the foam roller:
Most gyms have foam rollers, and you can also find affordable models online. Lying on your back, place the roller just below the shoulder blades with your hands supporting your neck. Extend your upper back over the roll, hold for 5 seconds and then return to neutral. Roll down and mobilize another segment of the mid back. Be sure not to arch the lower back by keeping the abdominals tightened.
Common Substitutions (try and avoid these): arching the lower back, extending at the neck instead of the mid back.
Lumbar Lock Rotation
Isolating thoracic rotation can be challenging when working on mobility, but the lumbar lock position can help. Check out this video. When replicating this stretch, get into a prayer position with one arm behind your head. Make sure the lower back maintains a flexed position by keeping your butt to your heels (or as close as you can), and rotate towards the arm that is overhead. The motion should come from the mid back. Pause at the top of the motion for a few seconds and repeat 10 times.
Common Substitutions: shifting your body laterally to try and increase “rotation”
Open Book Rotation Stretch
The open book stretch has two variations. The first can be done with the top leg resting on a foam roller or pillow as demonstrated in the video. The second option is with both of your knees flexed towards your chest. With either variation, you should be lying on your side, then “open the book” by rotating to the opposite side you are lying on. The stretch should be felt in the rib and mid back area. Hold for 10 seconds.
Common Substitutions: arching the lower back, not pulling the knees into flexion enough.
Seated Assisted Rotation
A Muscle Energy Technique (MET) is a technique commonly used help restore motion when dealing with limitations in motion. This video shows how you can increase rotation by doing resisted band rotation seated on a ball, followed by a passive rotation (let the resistance pull you) back to the opposite side. Sitting on a ball, rotate to the right, slowly allow the band to pull you back to the left, with a deep breath performed at the end of your available range. Each time you rotate to your right, then let the band again assist you in rotating to the left. This can be done on either side. But for a right-handed golfer, having the assistance to the left can really help to increase your back swing. Performing these 10 times with a few second hold at the end range can help to improve your rotation!
Try these out and I think they will help you get more mobility in the thoracic spine.
There can be many reasons beyond your body’s limitations that contribute to lack of club speed (which will affect distance). But when it comes to identifying these limitations and how they relate to the swing, that is where a TPI Certified Expert can help. Thoracic spine rotation is only a part of the body’s limitations when it comes to speed and distance off the tee. Getting screened by a TPI Certified Expert goes a long way in identifying your bodies limitations and then addressing them with a personalized program. 14 of the last 17 major champions and 51 of the last 62 tour event winners were advised by a TPI Certified Expert.
Back in Action Physical Therapy has a TPI Certified Expert that will evaluate you and determine what characteristics negatively contribute to your unique swing characteristics. Give us a call today or check out the Golf Fitness page.