The neck is more mobile than the middle and lower spine, with large ranges of mobility for flexion (forward bending), extension (backward bending), side bending and rotation. This allows us to move our head in many directions and receive visual input from our surroundings and for balance. The upper cervical spine is primarily responsible for rotation, while the middle and lower cervical spine are responsible for side bending. The motions of flexion and extension are dispersed among all cervical spine levels.
The motion of the neck would not be complete without the simultaneous movement of the middle back in the same direction.
The neck’s normal range of motion will vary. However, motion should feel free and there should be no pain or stiffness at the end range. Golfers should be able to move through their swing with enough motion in their neck to keep their eyes fixed on the ball without moving, as their middle back rotates below the neck and the head.
Here are some useful tips to avoid neck injury and pain while playing golf:
- Start with a dynamic warm up to increase your body’s core temperature and the range of motion of your hips and thoracic spine (mid back). Keeping your hips and mid back limber will allow for less stress in your neck.
- Hinge from the hips to avoid tucking your chin. Act as if you have a water balloon under your chin and don’t want to squeeze it. This will allow you to keep the natural extension curve in your neck when swinging.
- Limit your shoulder rotation during the backswing. Many golfers tend to over-rotate during their backswing in the attempt to gain more power. This will only put added pressure in your neck and cause inconsistent shots.
- Swing from your hips and not the arms. Initiate the downswing using your hips and keep the upper body loose to avoid added stress in the neck.
- Grip the club lightly. Squeezing the club will create tension in your arms and the shoulder muscles that support the neck.
- Relax your jaw, and do not clench your teeth through your swing.
- If you can’t decide between two clubs, club up, not down. Making sure you have the correct club for the correct distance will prevent over-swinging. This will allow you to have more consistent shots without the added stress of trying to “muscle” the shot.
- After a neck injury, return to golf slowly. Gradually increase the amount of shots and holes you play to avoid overuse and another injury. A slow return is a safer return.
- Consult a golf professional to understand your individual limitations. Create a step-by-step plan to address those limitations with corrective exercises and swing correction.
- Utilize a foam roller for daily thoracic/lumbar/hip mobility. Having good rotation/mobility at the rest of the spine and the hips will help avoid over stressing the cervical spine (neck).
Patrick Vignona, PT, MSPT, SCS, Cert MDT, is a sports rehabilitation and performance specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City. His primary interests are in the treatment of knee, hip and shoulder conditions. Patrick has extensive experience in the care of elite level athletes and dedicates his clinical focus on injury prevention and return to sport.