It's a Pain in the Neck


People are often surprised when they find out we treat injuries on the PGA Tour sports medicine center as well as provide a fitness center.  They often scoff at the thought of golf causing an injury.  Yet the truth be known, golf at this level is a traumatic sport at least as far as the spine is concerned.

A good golf swing has repetition of movement as a foundation.  This repetition of twisting and bending with a compressive load can be nearly as damaging over time to the joints of the neck as a dripping faucet can be to a porcelain basin.  Well maybe not that bad but over time the neck joints will suffer some wear and tear and injuries varying from degenerated discs to slight muscle strains can occur.

Problems of the neck are usually a slow onset type of injury with a little stiffness becoming something worse as the course of play continues.  Like anything else in this world there are exceptions:  remember Tiger’s wedge-to-rock-to-ball technique at last year’s tour championship?  That was an example of a sudden-onset type of neck injury while David Toms’ neck problems prior to his 1999 win at Pine Mountain came on more slowly.

Both types of problems require the same fundamental treatment:  reduce the inflammatory reaction (ice, electrical stimulation, gentle manual therapy techniques), return muscle function and joint movement to normal (trigger point therapy, joint manipulation, gentle stretching, movement re-education) and strengthen the area with specific exercises.  Posture work is often required for long-term changes to be manifest, however.

Preventative self-help maneuvers to avoid neck problems include isometric (developing force with no movement taking place) exercises while either standing or sitting tall.  Simply place one hand on the side of your head just above the ear and gently push as if you are trying to place your ear to your shoulder.  Gradually build pressure while allowing no movement to occur, hold for 5-7 seconds and relax. The same can be done for rotation by placing one hand on the side of your head just behind your ear and your opposite hand on the other side of your head just above and in front of the soft temple area.  As you push with both hands use your neck muscles to keep your head still.  You can repeat both these exercises to each side 5-10 times per session with 1-2 sessions per day.  Done properly you should not experience pain.

If you have a golf-related neck problem, these exercises may help but your best success may be obtained from treatment by a manually trained physical therapist.

Ralph Simpson