Is Your Stiff Shoulder Limiting Your Golf Game?

Following on from Europe’s dismal performance in the Ryder Cup, let’s talk about how important external rotation of the shoulder is for the golf swing, and many other sports for that matter, and how improved mobility can lead to better performance and prevention of injuries. 

External rotation of the shoulder refers to when the shoulder joint rotates outwardly, like when your elbows are at your sides at 90 degrees and then the hands come out to the sides as far as possible.

Both shoulders need to externally rotate past approximately 80 degrees at the top of the golf swing and the follow through. Certain restrictions of the shoulder joint, capsule or musculature, can inhibit this valuable range leading to inconsistencies of the golf shot and compensatory changes to the swing, which can lead to injury.  

A common alteration in the swing, if external rotation is limited, is to stand up straighter on the back swing, thereby allowing the club to swing up high. This loss of posture usually causes two mis-hits: the slice and hook. 

Some causes for lack of external rotation include: 

  1. Shoulder instability: imbalances of the important rotator cuff muscles can lead to the humerus moving uncontrollably in the joint.
  2. Overdevelopment of the internal rotators (those with hunched postures and the lovers of the chest press) will limit mobility. The lats and subscapularis are usually the culprits for golfers. 
  3. Capsular tightness: the capsule surrounds the shoulder joint, but restrictions in certain areas will restrict movements into external rotation. 
  4. Scapular instability: any weakness of the scapular stabilizing muscles, including rhomboids, mid and lower traps and serratus anterior can affect external rotation in the golf posture. 

One tip on how you can determine your external rotation range and whether scapular instability is involved is to stand tall, raise your shoulder out to the side at 90 degrees, elbow bent at 90 degrees and rotate the shoulder back aiming to move past the midline of your body. If your range of movement just makes it to the midline of your body or less, then you have limited external rotation.  

With regards to golf and other sports that adopt dynamic postures, you can take this further by adopting a 5 iron posture and repeating the test with the shoulder and elbow at 90 degrees. You may find less mobility here, which again indicates a mobility issue but also more involvement of an unstable scapula. 

As discussed, there can be a variety of reasons for your limited external rotation range.  The issue may not involve just tightness of the chest muscles or lats. For those who are continuously stretching these areas and are still struggling with range, further structures may be the main issue and cause for the tightness. 

As a Titleist Performance Instructor,  I believe determining the specific structures that are impacting on this vital range is key in prevention of injuries and improving performance. Indeed, with golf in mind, a lack of external rotation of the shoulder could be the cause of your slice or hook.

If you are interested in getting your golf game pain-free and improved consistency, consider booking in for a Titleist Golf Assessment at Alaia. I would love to fully assess your physical limitations and connect these to the characteristics of your golf swing to help make the year ahead your best ever!