Overview

Yips are involuntary wrist spasms that occur most commonly when golfers are trying to putt. However, the yips can also affect people who play other sports — such as cricket, darts and baseball.

It was once thought that the yips were always associated with performance anxiety. However, it now appears that some people have yips that are caused by a focal dystonia, which is a neurological dysfunction affecting specific muscles.

Some people have found relief from the yips by changing the way they perform the affected task. For example, a right-handed golfer might try putting left-handed.

Symptoms

The most common symptom associated with the yips is an involuntary muscle jerk, although some people experience tremors, twitches, spasms or freezing.

Causes

In some people, the yips are a type of focal dystonia, a condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions during a specific task. It's most likely related to overuse of a certain set of muscles, similar to writer's cramp. Anxiety worsens the effect.

Some athletes become so anxious and self-focused — overthinking to the point of distraction — that their ability to execute a skill, like putting, is impaired. Choking is an extreme form of performance anxiety that may compromise a golfer's game.

Risk factors

Yips tend to be associated with:

  • Older age
  • More experience playing golf
  • Lower handicap
April 25, 2014
References
  1. Stacy MA. Handbook of Dystonia. New York, N.Y.: Informa Healthcare; 2012:212.
  2. Dhungana S, et al. Yips and other movement disorders in golfers. Movement Disorders. 2013;28:576.
  3. Klampfl MK, et al. How to detect the yips in golf. Human Movement Science. 2013;32:1270.
  4. Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 31, 2013.