Staying fit and stretching help golfers play pain-free

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

I believe in exercise, in personal trainers, in massage therapy, in yoga, in walking and stretching, and even in acupuncture. I did not always feel this passionate about personal fitness, but I had an episode about 15 years ago that made me a true believer.

Early on Easter Monday morning, I rolled over in bed and felt something “ping” in my back. Pain shot through my lower back and down my left leg. I could barely move.

Over the next few days, I went to the chiropractor several times (once on an emergency visit in the middle of the night), but each day, the pain got worse. Finally, I was home by myself one day when everything started going black. I called 911.

After a hospital stay, X-rays and MRIs, the orthopedic surgeon told me I had a herniated disc in my lower back.

The ultimate answer was back surgery, but I wanted to try other things first. I went to the acupuncturist, and my pain subsided. I found a personal trainer who specialized in back issues and saw him three times a week. I started walking every day—short distances at first, then longer and longer until I could walk 3 miles without discomfort. Three months later, I was back on the golf course.

Today, I still walk every day, do yoga stretches and rarely take any medications for pain. Becoming physically fit saved me from back surgery.

A few weeks ago, I got a notice from Amy Myers at Brunswick Community Hospital about a new program in its physical-therapy department on golf fitness. What a great idea for all our golfers!

Dr. Patrick McCauley presented a free program April 17 at the offices of the Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation called “Golf Fitness: Reducing Pain, Improving Performance.” The room was filled with several hundred folks eager to learn how they could play longer, and better, and pain-free, through simple exercises and stretches.

Scott Monroe is the manager of the Rehabilitation Center at Brunswick Hospital.

“This whole concept began when we noticed a lot golfers coming through our rehab program saying, “I love to play golf, but oh, my, it hurts.” We thought we could help our golfers through a fitness program especially designed for them.”

Last year when McCauley came to the rehab facility at Brunswick Hospital, he was a both a trained physical therapist and a golfer. To supplement his training, the hospital sent him to the Titleist Performance Institute in Oceanside, Calif.

“Getting fit through exercise and stretching will allow the golfer to not only play pain-free but will allow him to play longer,” McCauley said. “The fit golfer will avoid injuries and play a better game. It’s both a maintenance program and a preventive program.

“Daily stretching and exercise will build core body strength and tone the muscles needed for the golf swing. A regular exercise program will also bring down the golfer’s scores because he won’t be favoring one part of his body which will result in an awkward or incorrect swing.

“Common swing faults may be due to poor training, poor equipment or physical limitations. These problems will lead to errant shots and even to physical pain.”

Some common woes associated with the golf swing are problems with posture (too upright, too rounded), early extension (coming up on the shot), swinging over the top (upper body arm swing brings the club inside out), the sway (because of limited hip rotation), hanging back (often because of weak legs) and chicken winging (lead elbow comes out). Most of these problems can be corrected through therapy and exercise.

Most exercises for golf fitness are simple and do not require expensive equipment, McCauley explained. Nothing should hurt when stretches are done slowly and with several repetitions.

Here are a few examples:

•Shoulder rolls—bringing the shoulders up toward the ears, then backwards. Reverse.

•Sit in a chair and bring the head gently around to the left and then to the right.

•Bring the left arm across the body. Hold the elbow with the right arm. Gently pull. Reverse.

•Hold a golf club in both hands with arms at side, elbows straight. Keep the palm up on the right hand. Raise club up and away from your side, pointing the right thumb up. Return to starting position. Do not force, or feel pain. Repeat with the left side.

These are only a few of the many simple exercises golfers can do to develop their core muscles and to stretch arms, legs, wrists, back, shoulders, hamstrings and gluts.

McCauley believes involving other professionals will maximize a fitness program.

“The personal trainer will help supervise a program for golfers; the chiropractor and physical therapist can help,” he said. “The golf professional can build the swing that is correct and does not hurt. In addition, he can make sure the golfer is playing with clubs that are suitable to his frame and fitness level. Some awkward and ineffective golf swings are a result of pain or injury. There should be a team effort toward building golf fitness.

“Warming up is essential for golfers,” he added, “and I’m as guilty as anyone. I have three kids under the age of 5, and when I get a chance to play, I run out to the course and start hitting. That’s not a good thing to do.

“Always warm up by walking or riding a stationary bike for 10 minutes. Stretch your muscles before starting to hit balls on the range. A few simple stretches will mean a better, pain-free game. Stretch between shots as you’re playing. There’s always dead time on the course that will allow you to stay loose and limber.

“A cool-down after golf will also help. Stretches and a short walk will bring you back to play again, pain–free.”

Presently, the golf fitness program at the hospital’s physical therapy department is available only through a doctor’s recommendation, McCauley explained.

“If a person has neck or shoulder pain or some other ailment that prevents him from playing golf, a doctor can recommend physical therapy, and that’s where we come in.”

As the program grows, McCauley said, it will become available to the public without a doctor’s prescription.

So there you have it, folks. See your doctor, your therapist, your chiropractor, your personal trainer and your golf pro. Let’s all start moving and stretching and walking. We’ll play better and we’ll play longer.

(Note: The Titleist Performance Institute has a program called 2008 Golf Fitness Academy that airs on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. on the Golf Channel. Check it out.)


Ten thousand years ago, when cavemen cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft.

Today, it’s called golf.

Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net.