golf back pain

Golf with Back Pain: 3 Common Conditions & How to Prevent Back Pain

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Golf is a popular sport that has been around for decades or even centuries. Though golf is widely known for its scenic courses and relatively relaxed pace, the sport requires overall strength and mobility which contributes to the individual’s skill and precision. However, with any sport – there is a chance of sports injuries occurring. With each powerful swing where high forces and velocities are generated, spinal joints in the back experience a significant amount of mechanical stresses with the repetitive compressive, shearing and rotational load. This often leads to back pain during golf. In this article, we will explore how these mechanical stresses contribute to 3 common golf back pain conditions and how back pain while golfing can be prevented.

golf back pain

1) Facet Joint Syndrome 

facet joint syndrome
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Facet joints act as the connections between the bones of our spine (vertebrae). Primarily, these joints function by allowing us to bend forward, backward and preventing us from twisting without limits. Joints that are healthy have cartilage surrounding them which help vertebrae to glide smoothly against one another during these movements. In golf, the swing mechanics in itself contains axial rotation, side bending, compression and shearing forces to the bones in the spine. Coupled with the repetitiveness of the sport, these biomechanical forces can cause the cartilage to break down.

The result of this breakdown causes facet joints at different levels of the spine to become injured, inflamed, or degenerate over a period of time. Hence, each facet joint can become a source of pain and this particular disorder of the back is known as Facet Joint Syndrome. Though symptoms can vary, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Localised pain in the upper, middle or lower back that may radiate to the buttocks or thighs 
  • Stiffness in the back during movements, occasionally more prominent in the morning 
  • Numbness and tingling sensation in the back extending down to the extremities

2) Low Back Strains and Sprain

When somebody strains their back, the muscle fibres are stretched abnormally or torn in severe cases. Similarly, a lower back sprain would refer to the ligaments (connective tissue connecting bone to bone) being stretched from their attachments. A single event of improper lifting during the game or the rotational forces during the golf swing itself creates an inherent risk to overstressing these soft tissue structures. The overstretching or tearing of these tissues can cause inflammation, leading to cramps and severe pain. Most times these structures can heal well with some rest, however, prolonged repeated movements, such as multiple golf swings, can lead to chronic strains in the structures and hence recurrent episodes of back pain. Though a pulled back or strained muscle/ligament may seem like a minor injury, it can be very painful. Typical symptoms would include increased pain with general movements, decreased range of motion and even a chronic feeling of vague tightness in the lower back muscles if it fails to heal properly.

3) Disc herniation

slipped disc

Between the bones of the spine (vertebrae), there are cushion-like structures between each of them known as the intervertebral disc. These discs have a jelly-like core known as a nucleus that helps to absorb mechanical energy under compressive loads. A herniated disc, sometimes known as a slipped disc or ruptured disc, occurs when the nucleus pushes through the outer portion of the disc. In golf, the lower back is in a flexed posture when addressing the ball. A slouched posture increases discal pressure before the swing even takes place. Studies have also shown that the most common cause of disc herniation was repetitive side bending combined with compression and torsion. During the downswing, also known as “the crunch”, the explosive twisting movement causes the spine to go into a compressional side bent position in order to generate greater torque, predisposing a golfer to a herniated disc. Note that repetitive minor traumatic events added up over a period of time or a single major trauma can result in the occurrence of disc herniation. Depending on the severity of the condition, symptoms can vary from pain to numbness or even weakness

Tips to prevent back pain in golf 

The key component in golf is more often than not the leading contributing factor for this complaint – the golf swing. Its repetitive movements are accompanied by the asymmetric nature of a swing, adding stress to the back. Based on the current scientific data of the relationship between golfing mechanics and our back, here are some tips available to avoid or reduce golf back pain and even improve performance levels.

1) Improvement of swing mechanics

Hitting the ball as hard as possible and repetitive side bending are problems that often lead to the conditions listed above. The key here is to abstain from hitting as hard as possible as the unnatural effort exerts excessive stresses, encourages compensation and increases the likelihood of injury. Predominantly, there are 2 major classifications of swing patterns in the world of golf today, the modern swing and the classic swing. Both of these are commonly used with one reducing the likelihood of back pain. A modern swing would restrict the amount of hip rotation to create a greater force. Whereas in a classic swing, the hip rotates together with the torso. Hence, though the classic swing reduces the force generated, it is recommended to adopt this swing pattern as it allows the force/load on the spine to be more evenly distributed. Overall, implementing a programme that focuses on flexibility, strength and power training alongside the correction of faulty swing mechanics by a professional can reduce the likelihood of injury for a golfer and even increase their performance.

2) Warming up

Studies have shown that stiff back rotation and limited joint range of motion may result in increased back pain. Golfers in their effort to drive longer, may unconsciously force their bodies past the comfort zones of their joints. By following a warm-up protocol, you will be able to help your spinal joints move into a greater available range, get comfortable with the end range and improve coordination of the various body parts, thus reducing the risk of injury and enhancing performance levels.

Some examples include:

3) Correcting golf posture to avoid back pain

To distribute the load evenly in your spine, avoiding a slouched posture in a stance will be beneficial, neither do you adopt an overly arched lower back Instead, remember to bend at your hips, keep the spine neutral and stand at an appropriate distance from the ball. This helps prevent excessive spinal disc compression whilst preventing the loss of balance. Exercises focusing on hinging from your hip and ensuring the spine is not excessively flexed or extended include:

  1. Romanian Deadlifts
  2. Seated Good Morning

4) Knowing your limits

Playing excessively, especially if you are relatively new to golf, increases your likelihood of golf back pain. Building your capacity and starting off with fewer precise strokes in a session may be more important than overall swing mechanics. Assess your overall capacity and the amount of time you can comfortably play. Taking breaks in between the golfing session and after ensures the appropriate muscle groups get sufficient time for recovery.

Physiotherapy treatment to resolve golf back pain

Be it a casual or professional level, everyone should be able to enjoy their sport without back pain ruining the experience. Understanding and usage of these strategies can go a long way to reducing the chances of back pain hindering your performance in golf. However, if you are experiencing back pain after finishing a round or two, our team of physiotherapists will be able to help you. A comprehensive treatment plan specifically tailored to your lifestyle and needs can help to alleviate your pain and get you back to the golf course. To get started on physiotherapy treatment and start experiencing life fully again, simply give us a call or drop us a message.