Yips, a condition that plagues professional and amateur golfers alike and leaves them unable to complete a stroke, may be a movement disorder similar to writer’s cramp and musician’s cramp, researchers reported this week.
The finding supports suspicions that the condition, which can cause a golfer to badly miss a usually easy putt or even drop a club, is not all in the head. But it does not necessarily point to a treatment.
Laboratory tests in the study, which compared golfers who suffered from the yips with golfers who did not, showed evidence of involuntary movements called co-contractions in those who had the problem, said Dr. Charles Adler of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, the lead researcher.
“The co-contractions were similar to those of task-specific dystonias — or movement disorders — such as writer’s cramp and musician’s cramp,” Adler said in a statement. Adler presented his findings to a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Miami late on Thursday.
These movement disorders are not well-understood but doctors believe damaged nerves may be to blame.
German golfer Bernhard Langer, a two-time U.S. Masters tournament champion and captain of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team last year, is known for his struggles to overcome the yips.
“You freeze, you totally freeze or you just jerk,” Langer said in his autobiography. “At times, my putting was so bad that people were coming to watch me in the manner of those who go to motor racing to see a crash.”
Other athletes can also suffer from the yips, including tennis players and cricket players.
For the experiment, Adler and colleagues used surface electromyography (EMG), a test of muscle movement, to determine whether muscles were overactive. They compared 10 golfers with yips with 10 golfers without the condition.
“While only two of the golfers felt they had their yips in the lab, under all putting conditions, 50 percent of the golfers with the yips had EMG evidence of co-contractions of muscles in the forearm just prior to the impact of the putter with the ball,” said Adler.
Treatment options may be scarce. There is no specific therapy for writer’s cramp, for instance, although injections of botulinum toxin, similar to Botox treatments for wrinkles, can help.
Some oral drugs may help a few people with such conditions, as well.
The Mayo Clinic team has been studying other possible ways of coping with the yips, such as specially designed clubs that release the pressure on the nerves, relaxation therapy and physical therapy.