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What exactly is Rory McIlroy's injury - and how is it going to affect his golf game?

Chartered physiotherapist Domhnaill Fox assesses the world number one’s road to recovery.

rmac2 Source: Rory McIlroy via Instagram

What exactly is McIlroy’s injury?

The anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) is a ligament on the lateral side of the ankle. It restricts forward movement of the foot from the ankle and also resists rolling of the ankle inwards.

How serious is it?

A total rupture, as in McIlroy’s case, means that the ligament is basically torn all the way through and there is now an instability at the site where the ligament previously stabilised.

McIlroy also reported some associated joint capsule damage which insinuates that he tore some of the joint capsule itself which can create further instability.

It is common with this type of total ruptur  that some damage of the joint surfaces also occurs, which can significantly lengthen rehab time. This has not been confirmed as of yet, however.

What are the implications for his game?

McIlroy is a right-handed golfer; therefore his injured left foot is his follow-through foot. This is important for several reasons.

Source: Golf Monthly/YouTube

As you can see in his swing, as he follows through, his left ankle stays planted and he rotates powerfully through his hips, spine and shoulders. His left ankle needs to be very stable and strong in order to resist these forces and facilitate a powerful (and accurate) golf swing.

You will also see that he shifts his weight from one side to the other as he transitions through his swing which requires very fine control over his joints at the speed at which he is moving. This weight shift is controlled by the ligaments and muscles of the lateral ankle and leg.

Both of these facts require McIlroy to have massive control, stability and strength all down his left side in order to play his game the way he does. With one kink in this “lateral chain,” his swing can suffer immensely.

With an unstable ankle, McIlroy has to work very hard through his lower leg, hip and abdomen to stabilize his ankle and produce a smooth and powerful swing. Therefore his rehab will involve a lot of lateral knee, hip and abdominal stability work to account for the kink in the chain.

In golf, rotation is king but in order to make it to the Open, McIlroy must work really hard on controlling the amount of rotation that occurs at his ankle. There is a big trade off here as his arsenal of long driving and accurate approach play will really test his injured ankle as he gets back on the course.

It is hard to say whether he will make the tee-off at St. Andrews but it is certainly not impossible with adequate and targeted rehab.

Expect to see every little of McIlroy over the coming weeks as he pushes himself hard in the gym to make the Open Championship.

Domhnaill Fox is a Chartered Physiotherapist and Strength & Conditioning Specialist at Sports Med Ireland.

– First published 13.48

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