“Dear The Golfing Doc. How come when my neck hurts or feels stiff my golf swing seems a little off? Is there a connection between the two? Thanks. Steve N. Seattle, WA.”
Over the past few weeks, the biggest news in golf has been Tiger Woods and his lower back pain. Back injuries are not a new phenomenon when it comes to golf, nor to Tiger. The lower back is the most commonly injured area due to the nature of the golf swing. One area that is not often talked about though is the neck. How does a neck issue affect the golf swing?
If you have been reading my previous articles, you will understand by now how important every part of the body is when it comes to the golf swing. Everything from your muscles, joints, eyes, ears, and brain are all involved. The neck is often overlooked or perhaps say underappreciated because it is a much smaller region in comparison to the back and flare ups may seem less significant. This is actually incorrect. The neck, or technically, the cervical portion of your spine consists of more vertebrae than the lower back, also known as the lumbar spine. The cervical spine is a gateway of many structures including your spinal cord, carotid arteries, nerves, and many other great vessels that carry information to and from your brain. Although an injury to the lumbar spine may be very painful, there are more vital structures in your neck.
When it comes to the biomechanics of the golf swing, your neck must be in the best possible shape it can be. By this I mean as injury-free as possible, as discomfort-free as possible, or simply being able to move freely with no restriction. Many golfers are taught the idea that the head does not move during the golf swing, especially the backswing. I agree with this but must clarify that although the head remains in the same space during the backswing and at impact position, the neck must actually rotate both left and right. To demonstrate this, try the following.
While in your golf stance, go to the top of your backswing. Look at where your chin is in relationship to your shoulder. Hold your head and neck in this position and stand up straight. If you are a right-handed golfer, you will notice that you actually looked towards your left shoulder during your backswing. If you repeat this experiment and go to your impact position, you will notice that you look towards your right shoulder. So although the head may remain in the same position in space, your neck actually rotates from side to side. The neck rotates to the left during the backswing and the neck rotates to the right during the downswing for a right-handed golfer. Therefore, any issue you may have with your neck, whether it is due to an injury or muscle tension due to stresses from work and life, it can affect your golf game.
If you want to see how well your neck moves, try these simple neck self-screens. First, without opening your mouth, look down and try to touch your chin to your chest. Normally, you should be able to touch your chin to your chest without opening your mouth. A second self-screen you can try is this. Look towards one shoulder and try to touch your chin to your collar bone. Do not cheat by lifting your shoulder towards your chin or by opening your mouth to make it touch your collar bone. If you did not pass either one or both of these screens, and experienced discomfort or pain, then your neck needs further assessment from a health care professional.
Look forward and try to touch your chin to your chest without opening your mouth.
Chin-to-Collar Bone Self-Screen
Look towards one shoulder and look forward to try to touch your chin to your collar bone without opening your mouth of lifting your shoulder. Repeat for both sides.
If you could not pass these self-screens but did NOT experience any pain performing them, then you can try the following exercises to help improve your neck range of motion. You can do them throughout the day while at work, home, and golfing.
While standing or sitting, gently look over to each shoulder. Focus on range of motion and not on holding a stretch. Repeat 10 – 20 times.
Side of Neck Stretch
While keeping your head straight, bring your ear towards your shoulder. You may use your other hand to help you add a little extra but gentle stretch. Do not stretch to the point of discomfort or pain. Hold for up to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.
Back of Neck Stretch
While looking down towards your armpit, use your other hand to add a little extra stretch. Again, do not stretch to the point of discomfort or pain. Hold up to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.
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 www.thegolfingdoc.com or follow him on Twitter @thegolfingdoc.