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Golf Swing Study IDs Pro Secrets, Injury Risks


Do you want to play golf like the pros? An analysis of golf swings found that swing biomechanics were highly consistent among pro golfers, and the findings could help golfers improve their game without increasing their risk of injury.

In golf, it’s all in the swing

Improper swing biomechanics is the main cause of injury among golfers. A previous study reported that most shoulder injuries affect the nondominant shoulder, while lead arm elbow pain resulting from tennis elbow is the main upper extremity injury among amateur golfers.

The golf swing also places a significant amount of stress on the lumbar spine (lower back). Therefore, low back pain is one of the most common complaints among golfers.

At the Stanford University School of Medicine, senior author Jessica Rose, PhD, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, and her colleagues conducted a study which was the first to analyze key rotational biomechanic elements of the golf swing from backswing to follow-through. They found that among pros, swing biomechanics were highly consistent, with certain parts of the swings nearly identical between players.

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To conduct the study, data were gathered using eight digital cameras typically used to evaluate gait and upper limb movement disorders were utilized to record 3D motion images of ten pro and five amateur male golfers as they swung their clubs. Among the biomechanical elements studied were the tilt of the shoulders relative to the level position (S-factor), tilt of the hips (O-factor), and relative rotation of the hips to the shoulders (X-factor).

The 10 pros demonstrated a highly consistent peak X-factor that varied only 7.4% from a mean of 56 degrees. Among the three least skilled amateurs, the peak X-factor ranged from 46 to 48 degrees. Club speeds at impact with the ball were also highly consistent among the pros, differing only 5.9% from a mean of 79 mph, compared with speeds ranging from 56 to 68 mph among the three amateurs.

Analysis of the S-factor reveals that among the pros, it varied only 8.4% from a mean of 48 degrees. Among the amateurs, the handicap-15 player and two novices had S-factors ranging from 33 to 42 degrees. The investigators also found that the golfers’ turning force varied only 6.8% from a mean.

According to Conrad Ray, a co-author of the study and the Knowles Family Director of Men’s Golf at Stanford University, the findings provide scientific support to elements of the golf swing and help to clear up some unanswered questions about the biomechanics of the sport. “The study confirms that rotation of the hips initiates the downswing,” he noted, “so that, to me, is an interesting finding.”

The authors concluded that among pro golfers, turning force, X-factor and S-factor “are highly consistent, highly correlated to [club head speed at impact], and appear essential to golf swing power generation.” They also noted that “a precise understanding of optimal rotational biomechanics during the golf swing may guide swing modifications to help prevent or aid in the treatment of injury.”

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Gluck GS et al. Spine Journal 2008 Sep-Oct; 8(5): 778-88
Stanford University School of Medicine