Lower Back Pain and Golf
Dr. Robert Duvall, DPT, ATC, MGFI
Low back pain represents one of the most common and costly diagnoses that the health profession manages on a continuous basis. It is one of the most common reasons to visit a physician, physical therapist, or chiropractor. The costs for evaluating and treating low back pain patients are estimated to be beyond $50 billion dollars a year in the U.S. Regardless of the costs from the multiple diagnostic options, physical therapists and other healthcare practitioners must become more efficient and effective with their treatment plans. Treatment must be aimed at the individual with the back problem rather than the back problem itself. It is crucial for the clinician to include in their clinical assessments to examine the person and their ability to function, and not just focus on the traditional clinical tests of impairments such as range of motion and strength tests.
Traditional exercises have been shown to be an effective treatment modality for patients with low back injury. Multiple studies have examined the benefits of exercise in treating patients with low back pain; however, there have been very few published reports describing specific program designs as it relates to golfers. Golf injuries to the low back are the most common problems in both the professional and amateur player. It’s poor technique and the repetition of hitting balls that usually leads to an injury. Combine that with the typical sedentary lifestyle (in which people drive to/from work in a seated position and work in a seated position for most of the day) and you begin to understand why there is such a high incidence of back pain among golfers.
A back injury results from excessive stress placed on the spine, usually when the body does not perform the correct sequence during the golf swing. Here is an astonishing fact: Eight times your body weight is forced through your spine as you make contact with the ball. So if you have poor mechanics combined with a weak back you are more likely to cause yourself a significant amount of injury.
To avoid back pain, I recommend you start by visiting a health professional for a golf-specific training program. A well-trained health professional is able to identify skeletal and muscle imbalances and give you correct golf specific exercises to improve your posture and overall conditioning specific for golf. Correct posture and muscle balance will enable you to get into the proper positions required to swing the golf club effectively.
The golf swing is considered a very unnatural movement for most people, especially for people with a sedentary lifestyle. As with most sports, golf is a sport that requires a lot of rotary movement. When we sit for the most part of the day, certain muscles get used to that position and become “tight”, while other muscles get “stretched out”. This leads to significant muscle imbalances that then put unnecessary stress on the back. In all likelihood, their golf muscles have “shut down” due to sitting for long periods. Effectively, the muscles that absorb force and reduce load in a golf swing (that is, the lower and deep abdominals) are relatively weak and aren’t able to work together. And if your hips and shoulders are tight, there is a greater chance of moving incorrectly.
The golfer’s checklist to ensure a healthy back:
- » Visit a physical therapist or chiropractor well versed with golfers for a golf-specific physical assessment and conditioning program.
- » Take a lesson from a PGA professional about basic fundamentals and how the body should move during the golf swing. Hopefully the PGA instructor uses video to analyze your swing.
- » Practice golf specific drills that teach the correct movements in your swing, which will decrease the chances of injuring your back.
- » Ensure your clubs are fitted properly for you, e.g. are your clubs too short or long? Are the shafts too flexible or stiff?
- » Make sure you do a golf-specific warm-up routine prior to hitting balls or playing golf.