Is the “X-Factor” Golf Swing Linked to Back Issues in Golfers?

by Maura Hutchinson

We have all watched the saga of Tiger Woods and his back issues unfold over the past few years. Now, a new study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine suggests his muscular build and modern golf swing, might be the issue.

In the article, “Golf: a contact sport” spine surgeons from the Barrow Neurological Institute weigh in on the effects of the “X-factor” golf swing. A modern swing approach that focuses on maximising “rotation of the thorax relative to the hips to store up elastic potential energy, which is unleashed during the downswing.” In layman’s terms, in an effort to create a swing with the most power, in order to get the most distance, today’s golfers are putting an incredible amount of force and pressure on their spines during their downswing.

The authors of the study go in to detail about how a golfer using this swing is repeatedly experiencing minor traumatic injuries to their spine. Over time, these injuries can result in a pathological process the authors refer to as “repetitive traumatic discopathy.”

Dr. Corey T. Walker explains that “RTD results from years of degenerative ‘hits’ or strains on the spine resulting in early-onset breakdown, instability, and pain.” The authors believe RTD is an issue that already effects many young professional and amateur golfers. At present, back disorders are among the most common injuries of both professional and amateur golfers, at 55% and 35% respectively. Another alarming factor is that an increasing number of young professionals are experiencing low-back pain and degenerative disc disease at ages much younger than those in the general population.

The study found that this type of swing differs greatly from the style favoured by golfing greats of the past, such as Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan, who both employed a much longer backswing, followed by a relaxed downswing and follow-through.

“We believe Tiger Woods’ experience with spinal disease highlights a real and under-recognised issue amongst modern era golfers,” states Dr. Walker. “We hope medical practitioners, and surgeons in particular, will be able to diagnose and treat golfers with RTD in a specialised fashion going forward.”