> > In
an effort to improve current stroke rehabilitation strategies,
researchers at the University's Brain Research Imaging Center
(BRIC) are seeking answers from that other type of stroke-the
"Preparing to swing a golf club is the perfect activity for this
sort of study," says John Milton, associate professor of neurology
and the study's director. "A good golf swing involves a very elaborate
and somewhat unnatural series of movements, yet it takes place
in a fraction of a second, much too quickly for the brain to make
the necessary adjustments during the process." A golfer's pre-shot
visualization probably has a greater effect on the shot's outcome
than the golfer's thoughts during the shot, says Milton, who also
directs the Program for Executive Health's Golf Neurology Clinic.
"If we're lucky, we'll be able to see the difference between brain
mechanisms that plan a motor task and those that execute a motor
task," says Milton's colleague Steven Small, associate professor
of neurology and an expert on functional brain imaging.
The swing's pre-programmed nature, Milton hypothesizes, suggests
that the brain's processes before the shot are similar to those
during the shot. If the golf study affirms this, it would indicate
that the same brain paths are established whether one visualizes
a movement or physically performs the movement. For victims of
strokes and other brain damage, this could translate to a whole
new method of rehabilitation-one based on mental rather than physical
Data collection began July 22nd, the weekend of the U.S. Women's
Open, held in nearby Libertyville. Nine top female golfers volunteered
for the study, which compares elite golfers' pre-visualization
patterns with those of amateur and novice golfers.
The chance to study brains that have learned the golf swing so
thoroughly is of "tremendous utility" in the effort to improve
stroke rehabilitation, Small says. "There aren't that many people
in the world who have this level of skill," which suggests that
the brains of elite golfers "may be wired in a very special way."
To study the pros' wiring, the researchers, including Arizona
State University assistant research professor of exercise science
Debbie Crews (a Class A LPGA teaching professional), used functional
magnetic resonance machines to detect cerebral blood movement.
Tracking such movement, the researchers can determine which parts
of the brain a top golfer uses when preparing to swing.
Milton's team suspects that extremely ingrained skills-like walking,
running, and in the case of professional golfers, swinging a golf
club-are functions of a part of the brain that has little connection
to conscious thought.
When elite golfers first learn golf skills, they use a part of
their brain that deals with less ingrained movement. As swinging
a club becomes automatic, the skill shifts to a different part
of the brain. This displacement of skills within the brain is
key to Milton's study because it mirrors stroke victims' attempts
to re-ingrain skills such as walking.
After the LPGA golfers left town, the research team studied a
group of nine novice and amateur golfers whose ages matched those
of the pros. Unlike elite golfers, when the less-skilled golfers
swing, they use the part of the brain reserved for conscious thought.
Next, say the researchers, the amateurs will be given golf lessons
to see whether, as it becomes ingrained, swinging a golf club
goes from being a skill of the conscious brain to one of the subconscious.
- Lucy Biederman
> Volume 93, Number 1
> > Déjà
> > Women
> > Gay
studies at Chicago
> > Books
> > Deaths
> > College
> > Letters
> > From
ABOUT THE MAGAZINE