Decreasing Shoulder Pain in Golf

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The golf swing is one of the most complex movements in sports.

There are a lot of parts moving and stabilizing in coordination to hit a tiny ball with a club that isn’t so big itself.

The human body is more intelligent than most people treat it. It will find a way to get into positions it thinks it should be in.

The golf swing is a good example here. When a golfer does not have great movement patterns, but asks its body to get into severe ranges of motion we are increasing the risk of injury.

The shoulders are a particularly vulnerable area in the golf swing.

Take it from me. My swing mechanics have gotten away from me in the last month or so and, big surprise, my shoulder has been a little bit cranky.

To get into the back swing we must have good t spine mobility away from the ball and internal rotation on the back hip. Coming through the ball, the emphasis reverses.

Those that have poor T spine mobility or hip internal rotation are going to compensate to get into their back swing. This usually means that the rotation comes from the low back or the shoulder, two areas not meant to be the axis of rotation.

The shoulder especially takes the brunt of the force when someone tries to have a long backswing and basically rips their arm across their body. These people are just asking for a rotator cuff or labral tear.

Testing for Movement

When looking at risk for a shoulder injury there are 3 solid tests to look at.

The first is looking at the golfer’s posture. C posture, as seen by rounding the back, makes it difficult to rotate the torso and more likely to move at the shoulder.

c posture

There should be a straight line from the hip to shoulder when setting up to hit a golf ball.

Second, looking at the ability of the torso to rotate, independently. The seated trunk rotation test allows us to see how well the T spine rotates. When we sit down on a chair, with the feet and knees together, we should be able to get 45 degrees of trunk rotation.

trunk rotation

A lack of T spine rotation means that the back swing needs to shorten or else the shoulder could potentially be the spot where mobility tries to come from.

A third test that we use looks at the stability of the shoulder. The standing 90/90 test looks at external rotation of the arms. We start by standing upright, bringing the arm out parallel to the ground, bending at the elbow, and turning the hand back. We then repeat this from a mid-iron golf stance.

90-90 test

The golfer should be able to get past their spine angle with the external rotation. Also, is the test gets worse in the mid iron posture then we can determine that more shoulder stability work is needed.

Training to Protect the Shoulders

The goals of a program designed to work on reducing the risk of injury in the shoulders needs to work on

  1. T Spine Rotation
  2. Shoulder Stability
  3. Hip Rotation

As I have mentioned before, if the torso and hips cannot move then the movement is going to come from somewhere. Often, the shoulder is one site of this.

We should be able to rotate through the upper back to get into the back swing. If not, then the back swing will have to get shorter or the risk of injury goes up.

Two exercises I like for improve T spine mobility are:


Improving shoulder stability basically means training the rotator cuff to control the movement of the shoulder blades. People with poor posture or a lack of balance in their programming often lose stability in this area.

We can train to get it back with external rotation variations and yoga pushups.

Hip rotation is a funny topic. Some people have truly immobile hips and others lack lateral core stability, causing their hips to seem immobile.

Before the next time you go out to swing a golf club, try this. Do a couple of side planks on each side and hold for about 8 seconds. Then get up and swing. You should feel looser and better prepared to rotate into the back swing.