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Chiropractic: Keeping Golfers In The Swing Of Thin

According the August 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Chiropractic Association (JACA), both professional and amateur golfers have learned that a chiropractor can help prepare them physically for their best game of golf and can get them back on the links quickly when an injury occurs.

Tom La Fountain, DC, DABCO, has toured with the PGA for the past five years, traveling and working out of a modern, mobile medical unit with physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, a dermatologist, and an ophthalmologist. Dr. La Fountain reports that up to 85 percent of the injuries on the PGA Tour and Senior Tour relate to the spine, and about 70 to 75 percent of those golfers receive regular chiropractic treatment.

"There is a demand for our services because golf happens to be a sport where the primary injury is back-related," explains Dr. La Fountain. "The golf swing puts an unusual demand on the body---its unilateral rotation in the spine puts the average spine under a great deal of stress. Because the sport is growing tremendously and the majority of injuries are back-related, chiropractors who become familiar with golf and the evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of golf injuries can have a major impact."

"Back pain is the most common physical complaint among professional and recreational golfers, albeit for different reasons. One of the most common causes of back pain is what is generically referred to as spinal or regional mechanical dysfunction," Dr. Stude says. "Normally, each vertebra in the spine moves independently a certain number of degrees when our whole body is involved in an activity. If that's not happening--for example, if two or more segments move as a whole unit, rather than moving independently--it can lead to one kind of vertebral mechanical dysfunction."

During her 19 years of practice, Dr. Stevko has treated many women golfers, both amateurs and professionals, including Karrie Webb, who has won five LPGA tournaments this year. She says that women players are now more aware of the benefits of being stronger and more flexible, though certain inherent differences will always be factors. "Some of the older women players who have played a long time have more arthritic, degenerative changes in their lumbar spine, and they have more low-back problems. Younger players seem to have more upper-back problems. Chiropractic care helps players play better and feel better and experience increased motion and flexibility."

Chiropractors also express concern that the number of knowledgeable teachers has not kept pace with golf's growing popularity. Many people are taking lessons from assistant pros and even their assistants. Most lessons are not tied in with any sports medicine specialist and most people are not receiving instruction based on their individual capabilities or limitations. "If someone says his driver is a problem, it could be because of poor instruction, the equipment is wrong, or that his shoulder does not have the proper flexibility," according to Dr. Rose.

Dr. La Fountain is also working to improve the relationship between the sports healthcare specialist and the teaching pro. For example, he shows them how proper-fitting equipment can make an important difference in both the game and the health of the player.

Technological advances in recent years have led to new equipment that can make a dramatic difference in the game of golf. Improvements in the ball itself, the club head and the metal it's made of, for example, have contributed to the greater acceleration, accuracy, distance, and scoring seen today. As technological advances increase, however, the USGA and other affiliates have established new standards and restrictions.

"Once these restrictions were implemented, many golfers began turning toward fitness. There is no longer any other way they can improve their game," Dr. La Fountain explains. "Golfers are having us put them on a program of exercise throughout the year--off season to build up their strength and endurance with cardiovascular training and weight training, and in season they are doing some form of exercise that will get them through the season."

Dr. Stevko agrees. "The pros tend to be in condition all year round, so I encourage my patients to do the same. Some pros stretch two hours a day, it's that important." She also recommends vitamins and minerals. "Calcium is a natural muscle relaxant," she adds, "and B vitamins help reduce inflammation. Also, glucosamine sulphate has a lot of research behind it for limiting arthritic degenerative changes."

Another important factor in a player's performance ability is balance. A balanced foundation is essential for initiation of movement during the golf swing, and a golfer needs a firm foundation to effectively develop force, accuracy, speed, and consistency.

Dr. Stude explains, "Traditionally, we have walked on grass and farmland. We had to maintain our balance and coordination because we couldn't rely on the surface being flat. I did the first research study ever to address that issue using flexible custom-fit inserts or orthotics in golf shoes in experienced golfers. We observed improved proprioceptive ability in golfers who wore custom-made flexible inserts for six weeks."

"An old advocate of golf, the late Harvey Pennick, once said, 'It's not the fiddle, it's the fiddler,'" Dr. Stude adds. "What he was saying is basically that we're spending more and more money on technology--titanium heads and graphite shafts and special grips and special shoes--but we are not looking at the most important piece of golf equipment--the human body. And the chiropractic profession is in a great position to contribute to that!"

Golf for Every Body

Golf instructor Noel Jablonski teaches golf to paraplegics, stroke victims, and those suffering from MS, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injuries. Some seek improved range of motion and balance. Others want to enjoy an outdoor activity or to again play a game they love. She also teaches able-bodied students to play safer and smarter so they can play better and longer. Jablonski is co-owner of the Every Body Golf School at the Oak Marr Golf Complex in Oakton, Virginia, and is a Class A member of the LPGA Teaching and Club Profession Division.

Before instructing people with back injuries, she asks if they have seen their health care professional and if they have been given a regimen of regular exercises. "If they aren't doing them, I insist they start," she adds.

Jablonski considers regular chiropractic care essential in her own life and refers staff and students to her chiropractor. She also urges players to get lessons from someone who understands back problems and other difficulties. "There are professionals who will shy away from this, so call around and ask if a club has an instructor who understands back problems or other difficulties. Getting lessons from a true professional is a good idea because if you make a proper swing, you are less likely to hurt yourself."

Information provided by the American Chiropractic Association