Ask the Golfing Doc: Got Arthritis? Time To Get Moving!

Ask the Golfing Doc!

“Dear The Golfing Doc. I recently went to my doctor and asked him why my spine is so stiff. He said it is because I have arthritis. I am only 45 years old. Is there anything I can do about this? Thanks. Doug C., Seattle, WA.”

Thanks for the question. There are several types of arthritis that can affect the body. The two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is usually the one most people talk about or experience on a daily basis. This is due to wear and tear of the joint and its surrounding structures. On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis is more significant autoimmune disease with other associated health issues. There are still other types of arthritis such as psoriatic arthritis and gouty arthritis, but again these have specific underlying causes. The type I will discuss here is osteoarthritis.

First of all, don’t be afraid when you hear the word arthritis. Osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, osteoarthrosis, and spondylosis are all fancy medical terms to describe the same thing. By definition, arthritis refers to inflammation of one or more joints of the body with the main symptoms being joint pain and stiffness. It generally worsens with age and often follows a characteristic pattern of discomfort such as stiffness in the morning, it loosens up as your day gets going, and then stiffens again towards the end of the day. Does this sound familiar?

All of our joints in the body will be subject to wear and tear as we become older. Because of this fact, it is impossible to avoid developing arthritis. I tell my patients not to be afraid of arthritis as it is something that happens naturally. Depending on our lifestyle and recreational activities, the amount of stress and abuse we place on our joints or particular joints may be more significant than others. For example, a figure skater may suffer from knee issues later in life due to all the years of jumping and twisting of the knees. A baseball pitcher may suffer years later due to the abuse on the shoulder joint. For golfers, the spine, hips, knees, shoulders, and wrists are all fair game for arthritis because of the repetitive twisting and explosive motions required to hit a ball.

When it comes to the treatment of osteoarthritis, there are several remedies out there from pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, liniments, heat and cold wraps, diets, and basically anything you can think of to make yourself feel better. What works for one person may not work for another when it comes to relieving stiffness and pain. My number one suggestion for the treatment of arthritis is exercise! I know it might be stiff and sore but the best thing to do is to get moving!

Exercise helps to draw circulation to the joint and surrounding structures. It also helps to stretch the supporting muscles and eases up the stiffness that result from the muscle spasms. The intensity of the exercises does not have to be high impact or intense. As long as the joint is taken through its range of motion that will be sufficient to help draw nutrients to the area and help flush away any toxins. If you just remember the old saying, “use it or lose it”, that will help you slow down the arthritic process. If you don’t move, the joints will become stiffer and one day it may feel like they have just seized up and there really isn’t any more movement.

For golfers, the upper to mid spine is an area that often feels very stiff. And when this area becomes stiff, it really reduces the ability to rotate in the swing. Here are 4 specific exercises to help reduce the stiffness in this area and help you improve your range of motion. If you experience any pain during any of these exercises, stop immediately and consult your physician before continuing.


Cats and Dogs - Start

Round Your Back   

Cats and Dogs - End

Arch Your Back

Start on your hands and knees then round your back and arch your back. Perform 20 repetitions for 1 – 3 sets.


Open Book - Start

Start Position – On Your Side       

Open Book - End

End Position – Roll Back and Open Chest

Start by lying on one side with knees raised to about hip level. Without moving your knees, rotate your top half backwards. Perform 20 repetitions per side, for 1 – 3 sets.


Open Up Ribs - Start

Start Position – Hold Top Knee Down

Open Up Ribs - End

End Position – Pull Ribs Backwards

Start by lying on one side with knees raised to about hip level. Without moving your knees, rotate your top half backwards. Perform 20 repetitions per side, for 1 – 3 sets.


Reach Back - Start

Start Position – Rotate towards Arm 

Reach Back - End

End Position – Rotate towards Sky

Start on your hands and knees. Without moving your hips, cup one ear and rotate towards the down arm and then rotate up towards the sky. Perform 20 repetitions per side, for 1 – 3 sets.

Dr.Sese is the Clinical Director at the Washington Golf Performance Institute in Bellevue, WA. He also travels the country as an instructor for the Titleist Performance Institute and works with players on the PGA, LPGA, and other professional Tours. Please visit his website at or follow him on Twitter @thegolfingdoc.