Kathy Kavanagh

12th May 2017

12th May 2017

(written by Kathy Kavanagh and published in Ireland Golf Digest.)

Kathy likes to recommend a five-stage approach to changing bad habits and getting the most out of golf. Depending on the amount of back pain experienced golfers should work through the stages until they reach a level that controls or eliminates their lower back pain.


1. Everyone should stretch and warm up properly before playing. This will help you deal with the stresses better. That said, there is no need to put anymore strain on your body than is necessary. Cut the fat: use a lightweight bag with a double shoulder strap and a stand or use a trolley. If you go for the wheeled option it is better to push rather than pull, unless you’re going downhill. It’s all about keeping the weight in the centre of your body and ensuring the back is straight. Lighten the load further by removing any objects from their bag which they typically never use like that 2 iron or one of your woods. Buggies should be avoided because they actually increase the compressive loads from the vibration that goes through the spine and decreases the amount of warm up achieved by walking between holes, adding to spinal and body stiffness.


2. Position the knees vertically above the balls of the feet and remember the rule of 25’s. 25-degree knee bend and hip bend. Stick your backside out to get a balanced stance. Turn both feet out approximately 25 -30 degrees, this allows the hips greater freedom of movement through the back swing and follow through and decreases the torque placed on the spine. Excessive hip movement causes a steeper swing plane and therefore more stress through the spine. Try to imitate a baseball swing. You should also pre-set your abdominal muscles. Gentle tighten your abs just before initiating the back swing, that way the low back and pelvis should not move when the muscles contract.


3. At this stage, the ball has already left the club, its flight outcome can no longer be altered, so there Is no need to remain in a finish position that causes undue stress on the lower back. Excessive extension is a major cause of injury. It’s a result of excessive hip slide, i.e. when the pelvis moves too far forward, the centre of gravity moves outside the person’s feet. Most golfers have a tendency to extend their upper body backwards after impact to bring the COG back with their feet. Ways to avoid this are to allow the trail left to step through and ensure the front foot is turned out of 25 -30” A good drill for controlling hip slide is place a golf club shaft or back of a chair immediately to the outside of the front hip. The purpose of the drill is to concentrate on rotating rather than sliding the hips during the downswing and follow through. Excessive side bend should also be avoided. It causes the right shoulder (right handed player) to finish significantly lower than the left. The easiest way to avoid this is simple, just don’t let it happen! The body will naturally try to return to an upright position if it is allowed.

4. As discussed earlier trunk side bending, or in golf terminology “the hip slide”, is a major cause of lower back pain. The more vertical the swing plane, the more the hips have a tendency to sway laterally (i.e. trunk side bend) rather than rotate. Try keeping the COG as close to the body as possible when addressing the ball. Make sure your arms hang straight down and that you are not holding them away from your r body. You can also buy slightly longer clubs and stand with slightly more knee bend. Abnormal weight transfer is another major factor. At address the body weight should be 50:50. At the top of the back swing, about 60% of the body’s weight should be on the inside edge of the trail foot(the right). At the finish, almost all of it should be on the lead leg.


5. The final stage of the program is aimed at helping a golfer to continue playing when pain dictates that significant alterations must be made in order to reduce spinal stress as much as possible. Consider a functional back brace. Research has shown no evidence of loss of strength. It follows that if it decreases pain it will decrease pain induced muscle inhibition. Secondly, don’t swing as hard! Decreasing the back swing will reduce spinal twisting and the potential for pain. Research has shown that when asked to perform a half swing, most golfers still end up taking a swing closer to 80%. Finally, get some longer clubs. Adding seven to 10 cm to the length of a club forces the body to remain quite vertical during the stance and swing.