Shoulder Mobility Test for Golfers + How to Improve It

Dec 14, 2023
Golfer with sore shoulder

Healthy shoulders are important to the recreational and professional golfer alike. The ability of this joint to move through its full range of motion is paramount to the power and efficiency of your swing, and also has important implications for your individual risk of injury. A shoulder mobility test, coupled with a few exercises, can help make a big difference in your game overall.

Shoulder Injuries & Golfers

Acute and overuse injuries to the shoulder are some of the most often-occurring injuries amongst golfers. The muscles that surround the shoulder joint are heavily involved in the golf swing. They help to externally and internally rotate the arm, while also moving it away from and closer to the body throughout different parts of the swing. 

The rapidity with which a golf swing occurs makes this particularly challenging for the often underused and/or imbalanced shoulder muscles, particularly the four muscles of the rotator cuff. Supraspinatus, which is the smallest of the rotator cuff muscles, is also the most commonly injured muscle among golfing athletes.

You hear about (or may have unfortunately experienced) injury to the rotator cuff/shoulder often, and it’s because these muscles take a beating. They get overloaded in golfers because of direct or indirect restrictions throughout the body. Either the shoulder itself is dysfunctional, or it is being impaired upon through surrounding structures like the upper back and neck.

A stiff thoracic (middle) spine that doesn’t allow one to effectively rotate into the backswing forces overuse of the shoulders to achieve the appropriate range of motion. This effect compounds into the downswing as the body seeks power generation through the shoulders instead of the powerful muscles of the back and core; often leading to excessive wear and injury.

 

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Shoulder Mobility Test for Golfers

“If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.”  

This is a good phrase to remember anytime you or an external health practitioner is trying to fix a pain or problem in your body. There has to be an assessment of some sort (and the right one can be hard to determine), otherwise you’re just shooting blind. Stretching what doesn’t need to be stretched, and strengthening what doesn’t need to be strengthened.  

The below test is a simple assessment protocol to see if there is any obvious restriction in the shoulders and/or thoracic spine. Because of the relationship between the two when it comes to golf, it’s helpful to assess them together. To start, give this a try:

Thoracic Extension Test

Instructions

  • Stand with your heels about one foot from a wall
  • Place your buttocks, upper back, and head all against the wall
  • Raise your arms until they are both pointing straight up in the air and, if possible, touching the wall

✓ Negative: If you can get into the position described above then you have passed the test and have at least an adequate degree of thoracic extension and shoulder flexion.

❗ Positive: Many people cannot even get into the starting position because their back is too stiff and rounded for their head to touch the wall. If this is the case for you, you have failed the test. Also, if you cannot raise your arms into the vertical position while maintaining the points of contact on the wall, you have also failed the test, indicating a lack of thoracic spine extension.

Potential Complications

Once the shoulder reaches 140° of flexion, the thoracic spine has to extend to protect it while moving overhead. A tight thoracic spine is a common cause of shoulder impingement, which can be painful, and eventually lead to things like frozen shoulder. Other problems include excessive use of the shoulders and lower back (above and below the stiffness) while swinging.

How To Fix Shoulder & Back Tightness

If you failed the test above, don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone and there’s definitely something we can do about it. Give these simple stretches a try during your next workout, or even as a warm up before hitting the course.

Cat-Cow-Snake

Equipment 

  • N/A

Instructions 

  1. Start on all fours in a tabletop position
  2. Place your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders
  3. Round your spine, tuck your head under, and press up through your mid back
  4. From there, shift your weight back onto your hips, letting your chest drop down
  5. Drop to your elbows and slide your chest forward
  6. Come back to your hands and press yourself up 
  7. Let your back arch and gaze up with the head
  8. Repeat this sequence for 45-60 seconds 

Modifications:

  • Just do the cat-cow part of the movement, eliminate the hip shift backwards and just focus on rounding and arching the spine

Benefits

  • Lengthens the spine & mobilizes each vertebrae
  • Flexes the hips and shoulders fully when you shift backwards
  • Gentle loading of the wrist & elbows to build resilience through the joints

Dynamic Shoulder Stretch

Equipment

  • Golf club or pole

Instructions 

  1. Grab a golf club or pole with hands in a wide grip position
  2. Keep a small bend in the elbows to avoid fully locking out the arms
  3. Tuck the hips slightly and draw the belly button in to engage the core and avoid arching the lower back
  4. Slowly bring the club up overhead until you feel a stretch in the chest and/or shoulders
  5. Lower back down, then repeat
  6. Continue for 45-60 seconds

Benefits

  • Stretches the chest and front of the shoulders
  • Mobilizes the thoracic spine and shoulder blades
  • Helps correct your posture for better positioning while golfing

Rotator Cuff Stretch

Equipment 

  • Golf club or pole

Instructions  

  1. Grab a pole or golf club near the top with a thumb down position while also placing it behind the arm
  2. With your free hand, grab the middle of the club while keeping it near the bent arms elbow
  3. Gently pull the club forward with your non-stretched hand
  4. Pause, then release back down
  5. Repeat for 45-60 seconds
  6. Perform again on the other arm

Benefits

  • Works on external rotation of the shoulder, important for both the backswing and downswing
  • Helps to avoid rotator cuff tears during golf and other activities
  • Greater mobility in the shoulders means farther drives and better timing of your muscles (improved shot accuracy)

Golf Pain-Free With Dynamic Golfers

These are just a few of the hundreds of stretches and exercises we have available here at Dynamic Golfers. Sign up for a 7-day free trial to gain access to an extensive library of high quality, professionally programmed routines to help you become stronger, more flexible and injury-resilient. Experience freedom in your body like you never have before!

 

Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

6 Dynamic Golf Stretches for your On the Course Warm Up

Feb 26, 2024

Fix Golf Wrist Pain With These 4 Simple Exercises

Jan 24, 2024

5 Ways a Golf Workout Program Can Improve Your Game

Jan 13, 2024

A Detailed Look at Proper Golf Posture + 4 Exercises

Jan 02, 2024