Spinal Mobility for Golf: The Forgotten Aspect of Golf Flexibility

golf flexibility
When people think of golf flexibility, they are typically referring to the flexibility of muscles and tendons in the body.

However, for the golfer over 50, golf flexibility also needs to include spinal mobility…the often cited “forgotten” flexibility.

Younger golfers with young spines have no problem with spinal mobility. However, the loss of spinal mobility can result in major golf swing flaws in golfers over 50 if not addressed. Spinal mobility can be defined as how well each spinal segment moves in relation to the spinal segments above and below it.

The part of the spine that is most critical for golfers is the upper thoracic spine (T1-T8) which is the mid back region. Each of the individual segments are built to rotate 6 degrees each for a total of 48 degrees, more than half of the total back swing motion. In other words, spinal mobility is hugely important for full, fluid back swing in the golfer over 50.

In golfers, the loss of thoracic motion can lead to a very limited shoulder turn plus very poor consistency. Poor consistency can be related to excessive spinal compensatory movement (ei bad golf moves).

Poor Golf Consistency

The reason for a short back swing is obvious but lets quickly explore the issue of inconsistency. Poor thoracic mobility is often the cause of poor posture and the appearance of a rounded back.  If you have this posture, about halfway back in the backswing your thoracic spine will stop rotating and the only way to complete the back swing is with a deadly swing plane re-route.

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When the thoracic spine stops rotating, the bail out move is to bail out of your posture which will lift your head up and out of position.  Being out of position, there is a very low percentage chance that you will be able to return to the correct impact position for consistently clean contact.  There is just too much extra movement to play well.

Here is a quick test you can do right now to test if you have enough motion in your thoracic spine.

  1. Lie down on the floor with your back flat against it but your knees bent so your feet are flat on the ground.
  2. Keep your elbows straight and bring your arms directly overhead, attempting to touch your wrists to the ground above your head.
  3. Make sure to maintain contact between your lower back and the floor; don’t arch your back to get your hands in place.

stretches for golfers

If you are able to perform this test than thoracic mobility is not affecting your golf swing. However, if you are unable to do it, than including some thoracic mobility exercises will definitely improve your golf game.

Thoracic Mobility Training for Golf

Training thoracic mobility is different than your normal stretching routine. Instead of holding a stretch, you want to move the joints in there full range of motion.

Think of a trying to loosen joint in a machine that has not moved in a long time. The joint is stiff with old gooey adhesives and rust restricting its movement. You want to move it back and forth continuously until you break up all of the old adhesions and the joint is moving freely and easily again.

That is a very close analogy of what you need to do to improve spinal mobility. You improve mobility by moving it. Moving a joint breaks up adhesions and improves natural lubrication improving the mobility of the joints. The following exercises will help you do this.

The Foam Roller for Golf

If you have limited thoracic spine mobility, the best thing you can do is purchase a foam roller.

Exercise #1: Thoracic Mobility With Foam Roller

If you have a foam roller, this is one of the best exercises you can perform to improve your backswing and swing consistency.

Exercise #1: Alternate Mobility with Tennis Balls

If you do not own a foam roller, you can pack some tennis balls in a tub sock and perform the exercise like this:

(If you have neck pain with this, support your head with your hands).

Exercise #2: Sidelying Thoracic Mobility

**Sorry for the video quality on this one but it shows the exercise perfectly.

Exercise #3: On Hands and Knees

The parameters that you want to follow for these exercise is to perform 20-30 continuous receptions. You want to start conservatively and gradually move in a greater range of motion.

It is OK if you feel some stiffness related pain as you begin these exercises but the discomfort must be minimal. Do not perform exercises that result in severe pain.

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Ryan York, DPT CGS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Golf Performance Specialist

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