Monday 5 September 2011

Osteopathy and Golf

Last week, one of my favorite driving ranges closed its door, covered its holes and pulled its flags for the last time- goodbye Hastings Driving Range. But this blog is not about sorrow for the loss of my golfing range, but a celebration- a time to reflect on how my love for golf is like my love for Osteopathy.  In many ways, golf and Osteopathy are like long lost brothers, sharing many similarities even though they don’t look the same. So hopefully, by the end of this blog, you will either go to your local Osteopath or the golf course.

When I was teeing up with my bucket of balls, the range has flags to mark distances- 50 yards, 100 yards, 150 yards, and over 200 yards. At the practice range, it’s easy to just hit ball after ball since a bucket comes with 70 balls. But the goal is to practice your aim, to control the ball better by improving your swing. So the first thing is to pick a spot to aim, and to hit your ball as close to there. And that’s a good day at the driving range, hitting ball after ball with consistency to where you want it to go at the 50 yard, 100 yard and even 200 yard marks. 

When I was treating my patients the next day, I was thinking of how our patients come in with their pattern of dysfunction and imbalances. Our goal is to try to change this compensation pattern to a new pattern, a new level of balance. In our mind, we can see how we want to fix this body and how it will feel, move and function after a treatment. Similar to golf, the beginning of a treatment is like standing at the tee box. The flag in the distance is the end of the treatment and between the tee box and that flag are the strokes or Osteopathic techniques we will use to get the patient to a new level of health. For example, for patients with acute low back pain, their back may feel rigid like a piece of wood due to muscle guarding and inflammation. To reduce the muscle tightness, we may need to use a combination of different techniques to reach a new level of relaxation and movement. To me, that is like trying to hit my golf ball 250 yards, but instead of using one golf club or one swing, it might take me two (or three strokes). For example, if we are using HVLA or MET to increase the range of motion for a joint, we know how far we want the joint to move. If we are using inhibition to decrease muscle tension, we know how deep we want to reach. If we are using counterstrain, we know how relaxed we want the tissues to feel. These are the aims or distances we want to reach with our techniques, just like if we were holding a golf club in our hands.

The important thing is not how many strokes or techniques, or even treatments, it might take to reach the flag. The flag is our goal for the patient of what is possible for their health. For patients who have chronic pain and lived with a decompensation pattern for years, the chance to change their long-term health for the better is worth the time, techniques and treatments. As rewarding as it is to have a patient be completely pain-free after one treatment, not all patients will be like a hole in one. The prognosis for any treatment will vary by patient due to the health of their tissue, age, diet and level of activity.

Thus, I am not sure if our founder A.T. Still was much of a golfer. But golf to me is a reminder of how Osteopathy is special. It doesn’t matter what our score is on any one hole, it’s how we do on the overall 18 holes. This is the holistic approach to golf, and just like in clinic, even if it takes 1 or 2 more treatments, or 10 or 18 more strokes, to reach our goal for our patient, as long as their health improves and pain reduces, then that is like golfing under par. 

Dickson Wong
Osteopathic Practitioner

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