Yips, the hand jerks that add strokes to a golfer’s game, may not come from anxiety after all, writes VICTORIA STAGG ELLIOTT.
The fairway is silent. It’s just you, a club and a tiny ball. You take your stance, raise for the swing, and “YIP!” Your hand jerks and the ball flies toward the nearest water hazard.
As exasperated as your mental state might be, the problem itself isn’t necessarily in your head. A study published this spring in Sports Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal from the New Zealand-based Adis International, suggests that the “yips” may be a form of focal dystonia (an impairment of the muscle tone) that can afflict anyone who performs repetitive, skilled hand movements.
“For many years, the ‘yips’ was seen as a purely psychological problem – something that was all in the golfer’s head,” said Aynsley Smith, PhD, lead author of the paper and director of sport psychology and sports medicine research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. But the study of 72 yipping golfers found that 55% described the ailment in terms consistent with symptoms of a dystonia. Only 22% described the condition in terms that would indicate a psychological problem.
This is not the first time a study has attempted to accurately define and categorise the yips, but it may be the first that will be followed up with treatment efforts. Mayo Clinic researchers are planning a putting tournament July 22 and 23 in Rochester, at which yippers will be studied with objective measures such as heart rates and stress hormones.
“First, we have to establish whether it is a dystonia, but if we can equate it to writer’s cramp or musician’s cramp, we can potentially go forward and figure out the best way to treat it,” said Charles Adler, MD one of the study’s authors and chair of the division of movement disorders at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. “And people won’t feel inhibited to go to a doctor about it.”
Treatments, however, are not expected to be new. Those with a psychological cause may benefit from anti-anxiety medications or counselling. Those with a physical cause may benefit from dystonia’s usual regimen.
But researchers hope that developing medically based treatments for both yips’ physical and psychological forms will reduce the tendency to self-medicate with alcohol. More than 20% of golfers in this study reported imbibing in order to quiet the yips.
Although yips are mostly just game-threatening, researchers hope treatment will improve the quality of recreation for golfers and save the careers of professionals. “If a lot of these people actually have dystonia or tremor that could be treated, then we’re doing something really good,” said Dr Adler.
The average yip-stricken golfer is a decade-long player who competes regularly and plays more than 75 rounds per year. The yips can add nearly five strokes to an 18-hole game.
“These are highly accomplished golfers who experience the problem after many years of successful competition, and we see similar fine motor problems in others, such as professional musicians, who must assume unnatural postures for prolonged periods,” said Dr Smith. “Anxiety can make the problem worse, but it appears there is a physical element that may be the underlying problem.”
Some experts, however, still think the quirk is mostly in the mind.
“The yips is really in essence the nomenclature for the frustrations of golf, which is the most difficult game in the world,” said Robert Gotlin, director of orthopaedic and sports rehab at Beth Israel’s Insall Scott Kelly Institute in New York. “True dystonias are also very, very rare, and these symptoms are likely related to repetitive stress, compounded by the frustrations of performance.” – LAT-WP
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