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Barrow review: Harder swings mean more back injuries for golfers

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Former PGA pro returns to course after successful lumbar operation

PHOENIX, Ariz. (March 19, 2019) – In an article published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, three doctors at Phoenix’s Barrow Neurological Institute warn that as golfers swing harder, they increase the risk of serious back injuries.

The article – “Golf: a contact sport. Repetitive traumatic discopathy may be the driver of early lumbar degeneration in modern-era golfers” – explores a problem that faces tour pros and weekend hackers alike. Back disorders are the most common injuries among professional and amateur golfers, comprising 55 percent and 35 percent of injuries among those groups, respectively, the article notes.

The article by Drs. Corey T. Walker, Juan S. Uribe, and Randall W. Porter of Barrow says that as golf has evolved over the last two decades, golfers are applying more force when they swing the club. During the downswing, greater force is directed toward the spinal disc and facet joints, causing repeated minor traumatic injuries to the spine. Over time, this may result in a pathogenic process that the authors have termed “repetitive traumatic discopathy” (RT)D. 

The paper discusses modern-day golf swing biomechanics and how they relate to the development of RTD, earlier ages of players exhibiting RTD, and the possibility that golfers’ athletic strength training may contribute to RTD. They also address treatment of patients with this repetitive spinal injury.

Tiger Woods’ back issues are one well-publicized example cited by the authors. But the problem affects even amateurs.

“Repetitive traumatic discopathy (RT)D results from years of degenerative ‘hits’ or strains on the spine resulting in early onset breakdown, instability, and pain. We hope medical practitioners, and surgeons in particular, will be able to diagnose and treat golfers with RTD in a specialized fashion going forward,” Dr. Walker says. 

Former PGA Tour player Gary Jacobson suffered such intense back pain that he was ready to give up the sport until he underwent lumbar surgery in 2007, performed by Dr. Porter. “The six months before that, I played with so much pain it was stupid,” Jacobson says. “I’d load up on the ibuprofen and I’d go play in pain. I was never going to play golf again.”

Jacobson was an All-America golfer at Arizona State University in 1974 and 1975, and played on the PGA Tour in 1978 and 1979. In his best finish as a professional, Jacobson tied for fifth at the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. He also appeared in the 1978 Masters and 1977 British Open. 

Jacobson required a second lumbar operation in 2011, also performed by Dr. Porter. Since then, he has been pain-free and has played to a handicap of 3 or better. The 66-year-old Glendale, Ariz., resident also hikes and is looking forward to exploring the Valley on his new electric bike.

“My results were amazing,” Jacobson says. “It’s like being 25 years old again. I’m back to lifting heavy things and being active. I wish the rest of me felt like 25 again.”


About Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center
Located in the heart of Phoenix, Ariz., St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center is a 586-bed, not-for-profit hospital that provides a wide range of health, social and support services with special advocacy for the poor and underserved. St. Joseph’s is a nationally recognized center for quality tertiary care, medical education and research. It includes the internationally renowned Barrow Neurological Institute, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Norton Thoracic Institute.  U.S. News & World Report routinely ranks St. Joseph’s among the best hospitals in the United States for neurology and neurosurgery.  For more information please visit our website at


Publish date: 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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