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How to Prevent Golf-Related Back Pain

How to Prevent Golf-Related Back Pain

There was a time when some people considered golf more  of a hubby for out of shape  athletes wannabes  than a real sport. But things sure have changed. Golf is in, blossoming into a popular sport that attracts followers worldwide. With the increasing popularity of golf comes the question of how to prevent golf-related back pain.

Media Coverage of Golf Spreads Golf-Related Back Pain Awareness

Media coverage of star athletes such as Tiger Woods and Michelle Wei is also helping turn golf into a sport that can be enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Swinging the club on the open green, hitting the perfect shot,  and playing in the warm sun seems a perfect way to spend the day for many people.

Woman in Tee shirt and Glasses Playing Golf During Day Time
Woman Playing Golf During Day Time

In the united states it is estimated that more than 27 million people play golf. Overall, golf may be considered a rather benign activity, if overuse can be avoided. If not, golf can result in serious, chronic back pain.

The Statics of Golf-Related Back Pain

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 102,000 golf-related injuries treated in doctors’ offices, clinics and emergency rooms in 2004, which incurred a total cost of approximately $2.5 billion in medical, work-loss, pain and suffering and legal costs.[1]

The low back is the most common injury location for  golf-related injury. Most injuries occur as a result of the golf swing, and occur mostly at impact.

Key Areas of Preventing Golf-Related Back Pain

Four key areas of preventing injury for the sport of golf include: warming up, swing, bio-mechanics, and carrying the golf bag. Follow these  tips and you’ll avoid golf-related back pain and spend more time on the greens than the club house.

Warm-up Before Playing to Prevent Golf-Related Back Pain

Are you one of those golf players who has no warm-up or stretching routine? Are you a “grip it and rip it” type of player? Well, you need to stop what you’re doing unless you want to end up with excruciating back pain that will take you out of the game.
It’s normal  that you would want  to control the flight path of the ball through the air. After all, that’s what you see great players doing right? However, understand that those players don’t show a few minutes before tee time and just bash the ball. They leave plenty of time to warm up. You don’t want to just arrive at the greens, pull out your driver and proceed to hit the cover of the ball—doing so will most likely result in you spraining your back and getting back pain.

Bottom line is this: Before going out to play, spend 5-10 minutes in the clubhouse stretching. Focus on the lower back, shoulders and forearms. It is also important to warm-up and stretch any other musculoskeletal problem areas. Check out the video below for more information.

Bad Golf Swing and Golf-Related Back Pain

Most golf injuries occur as a result of the golf swing, and occur mostly at impact. Think about this: A typical golf swing creates sufficient stress (e.g. compressive load) on the lumbar spine to potentially injure the intervertebral discs.[2]

This is another way of talking about what is often referred to as repetitive strain syndromes. In other words, you  are swinging the club in such a way that you  are putting extreme strain on muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and bones.

Minimizing Golf-Related Back injury Caused By a Poor Swing

You can performing these simple exercises to help strengthen lower back muscles:

Rowing: firmly tie the ends of rubber tubing. Place it around an object that is shoulder height like a door hinge. Standing with your arms straight out in front of you, grasp the tubing and slowly pull it toward your chest. Release slowly. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.

Pull-Downs: with the rubber tubing still around the door hinge, kneel and hold the tubing over your head. Pull down slowly toward your chest, bending your elbows as you lower your arms . Raise the tubing slowly over your head. Pull down slowly toward your chest, bending your elbows as you lower your arms. Raise the tubing slowly over your head. Perform  three sets of 10 repetitions, at least three times a week. [3]

 

Bio-mechanically Set up to Reduce Risk of Golf-Related Back Pain

A Man, Showing Perfect posture, Sets Up for A Golf Shot
Man Showing The Perfect Golf Posture

This is the recommended set up:

* During the set-up, the spine needs to be held relatively straight

(neutral) alignment. The trunk will still have to tilt forward

25-30 degrees when setting up to hit the ball, but this movement

should come mostly from flexion of the hip joints.

* In order for the hips to powerfully rotate through the backswing

and follow-through, BOTH feet need to be rotated outwards

approximately 25-30 degrees at set-up.

* A knee bend of about 25-30 degrees is also necessary to allow the

club head to be brought down to the ball without excessively flexing

the spine. [4]

Carrying The Golf Bag Safely to Prevent Golf-Related Low Back Pain

Repeated bending over to pick up a golf bag can stress the low back and lead to muscle strain. It’s a really good idea to pay someone else to do it. Hey, that’s a lot better than ruining your back. However, if you insist on carrying your own bag make sure to use one that has dual straps. This will enable you to evenly divide the weight across the back and reduce the chances of developing low back pain from an uneven load. Use proper back mechanics while lifting your bag (bend through the knees).

Do not hunch over the ball too much; it may predispose you to neck strain and rotator cuff tendinitis.

Conclusion

I hope the tips that I have given you will be helpful in avoiding golf-related back pain That said, I think if you are a beginner it would be a great idea to work with a golf pro when starting out. Most aspects of a golf swing are not natural or intuitive  like kicking a soccer ball.

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I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.

References

1

“Keep Golf Injuries from Sending You to the Clubhouse; orthopedic surgeons offer tips to minimize golf-related injuries”. Business Wire, May 11, 2006.

2

“Golf-related low back pain: a review of causative factors and prevention strategies”. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 5, no. 4, 2014

3

See note 1

4.

See note 2

16 thoughts on “How to Prevent Golf-Related Back Pain

  1. I like the tip about an integrated golf bag stand that opens when the bag is set on the ground so that you don’t have to bend over. You’re right. Bending over to pick up a golf bag can stress the low back and lead to a muscle strain. I can attest to that because it has happened to me. I’ll follow your tip.

    1. Hi Mark,

      Another tip that might help you is not to hunch over the ball too much; it may predispose you to neck strain and rotator cuff tendinitis. Yes, I have seen some pros hunch over the ball, but it’s not a good idea. Remember that natural smooth movements are the key to having a healthier back and thus a better game. Good luck.

  2. Very informative article especially for a weekender golfer like myself. As I understand it, the objective of a golf swing is to develop significant clubhead speed, and to do this a lot of torque (force) and torsion (twisting) is applied to the low back. This is where all the problems with golf related back pain occurs. So it boils down to finding a smoother swing that’s less stressful on the back. I’m convinced after reading your post that I need to ask the advice of a pro, maybe take some lessons, to fix my swing. Thanks for the info.

    1. Hi Fletcher,

      You’re right. Golfers should emphasize a smooth, rhythmic swing, as this produces less stress and less low back pain by minimizing the effort that the muscles have to make and by reducing less load on the joints. It’s a great idea to take lessons from a pro to fix your swing. It’s always for someone else to watch how your body moves as you set up your swing. Hey, Fletcher, let me know what happens.

  3. Great topic! Listen, I have a friend who is a doctor and avid golfer. One thing that I always think about after talking to him is the importance of physicians understanding the various stages of the golf swing as well as the movements of the golfer to better diagnose and treat related injuries. The differences in a golfer’s swing could affect their risk of injury. For example I think pro golfers, because they are able to better control torque in their swing, sustain less injuries than amateurs. What do you think?

    1. Hi David,

      High-handicap (amateur) golfers generate more power in their swing by using their upper extremity strength. This results in an inconsistent golf swing and makes these golfers more susceptible to back injuries.
      Low-handicap (professional) golfers have greater balance and flexibility, which enables them to use their body rotation to generate club speed, thus allowing the upper body to follow through. This reduces their risk of injury.

  4. I have heard that the differences in a golfer’s swing could affect their risk of injury. Meaning that High-handicap (amateur) golfers generate more power in their swing by using their upper extremity strength. This results in an inconsistent golf swing and makes these golfers more susceptible to back injuries. what do you think?

    1. Hi Joel,
      That’s correct. Low-handicap (professional) golfers have greater balance and flexibility, which enables them to use their body rotation to generate club speed, thus allowing the upper body to follow through. This reduces their risk of injury.

  5. A few days ago I caught an interesting interview on Golf Central. It was Phil “Lefty” Mickelson revealing how Tiger Woods gave him tips on how to use his shoulders and hips in such away as to avoid a lot of strain on his back. At that time Phil was having problems with his back. In any case, after implementing Tiger’s suggestions, Phil swung with less pain and won more matches. It just goes to show you that even great golfers can have a swing that messes that wrecks their back. I enjoyed your post very much, and I wish you luck.

    1. Hi Jason,

      Very well said. A bad swing creates a lot of stress on the lumbar spine to potentially injure the intervertebral discs. This means both pros and weekend golfers have to pay close attention to any sign that their swing is causing strain on the back. If they are not sure, they should do what Phil Mickelson did and ask the advice of a Professional golfer. It’a always easier for someone else to see what you’re doing wrong and thus offer constructive suggestions. Thanks for the kind words. It’s people like you that keep me going.

  6. A very well written and informative post on golf-related pain. I know that wearing a lumbar brace can prevent golf-related back problems. Indeed, wearing an lumber brace significantly increases the side hip rotation angles at both the top and end of a swing, suggesting that wearing a lumber brace results in the greatest restriction of lumbar motion. That said, do you think the bulkiness of most lumber braces discourage golfers from using them inspire of their benefits?

    1. Hi Nicholas,

      You are right about the impact that a lumber brace has on a golf swing. Wearing a lumbar brace while swinging a golf club can effectively decrease lumbar extension and rotation angles from impact until the end of the swing. This will decrease the pressure on the spine and greatly lessens the chance of back pain. However, the bulkiness of some lumber braces has indeed discouraged golfers from using them. But the modern golf braces are very light and not at all noticeable when worn underneath clothing. Thanks for checking in. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  7. I found the exercises with the tubing to be very interesting. I have had lower back pain ever since an injury 45+ years ago. I am going to have to try them out to see if it helps.

    1. Hi Bo,
      I’m finding out that exercises are becoming the preferred method of treating back pain instead of pain pills. As a result pain management professionals are becoming more creative and seeking better ways of understanding exactly what muscles are effected when one experiences back pain. I think the exercises with the tubing reflects this step forward. I hope they help you.

  8. Great post. I am a weekend golfer. I play in a lot of charity tournaments with a scramble format so I don’t swing as often as I would if I were playing with a friend or two. But I’m always conscious of my swing, trying not to swing too hard. Definitely taking the time to stretch always helps!

    1. Hi Todd,
      Looks like you’re doing all the right things by conditioning yourself before you take a swing through warm ups and stretching. Also it’s a great idea to avoid the “grip and rip” swing because that kind of hard, violent, swing will put too much strain on the spine and could result in injury. Just keep doing what you’re doing, paying attention to your swing, and you should have no back pain issues with your game. Thanks for checking in.

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