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Sports Massage for Golf

Submitted by on August 24, 2009 – 1:57 pmNo Comment

In my sports massage courses, I focus on specific injuries and recommended action plans to correct the underlying problems.  Here, I’d like to talk a bit more high-level about the mechanics and common muscular problems seen in specific sports.  Today I’m writing about the muscles involved in the golf swing.


Of all sporting activities, the golf swing is one of the most analyzed movements.  It is very common to see computer motion analysis offered at driving ranges and practice facilities.  Can you think of another sport where this high-tech analysis is readily available?  For my purposes here, the golf swing will be broken down into 3 phases:  the backswing, downswing, and the follow-through.

At my massage clinic, I will often ask my golfing clients to demonstrate their swing for me, so I can see which of the movements described below are limited.

The starting position of the golf swing has the golfer standing with a slight knee bend, bent at the waist to maintain the lumbar curve and their arms hanging relaxed in front of them holding the club just behind the ball.  The golf swing then involves a slow trunk rotation away from the ball to generate muscle tension (a “pre-stretch”) and weight shift, followed by an explosive trunk rotation toward and through the golf ball, ending with the weight shifted to the front leg.

This trunk rotation generates power that is transferred into the arms and down the golf club into the golf ball upon contact.

(NOTE:  The description of movement is for a right-handed golf swing)


From the starting position, the trunk rotates to the right, as the right hip internally rotates and the left hip externally rotates.  Meanwhile, the left shoulder will horizontally adduct and internally rotate as the right elbow bends and the right shoulder externally rotates to allow the golf club to move around the body into the top position.  As the shoulder rotates, the right scapula retracts (adducts) and the left scapula protracts (abducts).  At the end of the backswing phase, the golf club is held above the head, with the left elbow straight and the left shoulder horizontally adducted so the left humerus is under the chin.

Common Muscular Problems with the Backswing

Legs & Hips (Right Internal Rotation, Left External Rotation, Right Pelvic Rotation)
Problem:  Limited hip rotation to the right
Action:  Release right gluteus maximus, medius and piriformis, left adductors, left TFL

Trunk (Right Trunk Rotation)
Problem:  Limited right trunk rotation
Action: Release left abdominal obliques and left quadratus lumborum

Shoulders (Left Horizontal Adduction & Internal Rotation, Right External Rotation)
Problem:  Limited left shoulder horizontal adduction
Action:  Release left posterior and medial deltoids, infraspinatus and teres minor, latissimus dorsi, and left rhomboids and middle trapezius

Problem: Limited right shoulder external rotation
Action:  Release right subscapularis, right pectoralis major, and right serratus anterior

Downswing and Follow-Through

The downswing phase generates club head speed and power to transfer massive energy to the golf ball.  The real power is generated by a “kinetic chain” in which the sequential motion of the legs, hips, torso, and then arms will occur.  This sequential firing of the body segments creates whip-like energy, much greater than if one body segment moved in isolation.

First, the muscles of the legs and hips will fire, with the right hip quickly moving into external rotation, turning the pelvis to the left, over the stationary left leg.  This rotation of the pelvis will transfer up into the trunk, which will powerfully rotate to the left.  Finally, the arms will begin movement, starting with the left shoulder horizontally abducting and externally rotating as the right shoulder internally rotates and the right elbow extends to drive the head of the golf club down to the golf ball.

The follow-through phase in the golf swing occurs after contact has been made with the golf ball.  This phase involves the deceleration of the body and is for the most part passive, with the exception of the core stabilization muscles.

Common Muscular Problems with Downswing and Follow-Through

Legs & Hips (Right External Rotation and Left Internal Rotation, Left Pelvic Rotation)
Problem:  Shooting sciatic sensation down left leg
Action:  Client is most likely swinging too hard, causing compression on sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle

Problem:  Left lateral knee pain
Action:  Release the muscles involved with the IT Band (gluteus maximus and tensor fascia latae).  Also make sure client is rotating their torso and not shifting their body too much to the left

Problem:  Limited hip rotation to the left
Action:  Release left gluteus maximus, medius and piriformis, right adductors, right TFL

Trunk (Left Rotation)
Problem:  Limited left trunk rotation
Action:  Release right abdominal obliques and right quadratus lumborum

Shoulders (Left Horizontal Abduction and External Rotation, Right Horizontal Adduction and Internal Rotation)
Problem:  Pain in right medial epicondyle, especially upon contact with golf ball
Action:  Address right forearm flexor musculature.  This is a sign of medial epicondylitis (“golfer’s elbow”).

Problem:  Limited right shoulder horizontal adduction
Action:  Release right posterior and medial deltoids, infraspinatus and teres minor, latissimus dorsi, and right rhomboids and middle trapezius

Problem: Limited left shoulder external rotation
Action:  Release left subscapularis, left pectoralis major, and left serratus anterior

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