Golf-Related Low Back Injury


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The sport of golf is played by more than 27 million Americans – young and old, male and female, novice and professional. Although certainly not a contact sport, golfers experience their share of sport-related injuries to the neck, hand, elbow, and shoulder. The most common injury is to the low back or lumbosacral region of the spine – the discs, muscles and tendons associated with the L5 and S1 vertebrae.

Golf is unique in that it is considered a life-long sport. Frequent extended play, combined with poor golf mechanics (e.g., poor posture, over swinging, improper swing technique, etc.) can contribute to, if not create, low back pain caused by spinal stenosis, age-related degenerative disc disease, disc herniation, pinched nerves or sciatica. Individuals who have these conditions often continue to play golf in order enjoy the social interaction of playing partners, maintain the competitive spirit, or simply undertake something other than the routine of everyday life. When this occurs, a few hours on the golf course often results in days or weeks of very intense pain.

Q: What is the primary cause of a golfer’s pain in the low back?
A: The simple answer is trying to swing the golf club too fast, particularly when hitting the ball off the tee. The innate desire to put the ball as far down the fairway as possible requires the individual to flex, bend and rotate the spine while simultaneously engaging multiple groups of muscles in the back, arms, hands, abdomen, buttocks and legs in what is best described as a violent outburst. This seemingly unnatural motion places significant shear, compression and torsion forces on the architecture of the lumbosacral spine. Since the average golfer will take between 50 and a 90 full swings over an 18-hole round (plus those on the practice range), there is bound to be some degree of muscle and joint fatigue and/or strain. Complicating the problem of over-swinging is the fact that this action is unilateral (one sided), requiring a right versus left side strength imbalance and asymmetrical musculoskeletal flexibility.

Q: What treatments are usually recommended for golf-related low back pain?
A: If pain is not abated by rest, massage and over-the-counter pain relief medications, it is in the golfer’s best interest to consult a back and neck specialist for examination and diagnosis of the source of the pain. This is usually followed by prescribed pain and anti-inflammation medications and perhaps some low-back exercise instructions and/or physical therapy. In rare cases, surgery to correct the cause of the pain may be recommended.

Q: What can be done to prevent golf-related low back pain?
A: Every professional golfer, golf course pro or physiotherapist can offer suggestions to avoid injury while playing golf. Some of the most frequently recommended include:

  • Learn the proper technique for swinging a golf club – i.e., take a lesson from a golf pro
  • Don’t over swing – incorrectly swinging the golf club as fast as you can results in excessive force and torsion being applied to the low back, resulting in injury or exacerbating an existing cervical or lumbar problem
  • Strengthen the muscles in your lower back and abdomen through exercise to develop torsional flexibility – emphasize the shoulder, torso, hip, and hamstring
  • Warm-up thoroughly before beginning your round (include stretching and simulating your golf swing)
  • If you go to the practice range to warm up, start with the pitching wedge and work your way up to the driver. This incremental approach helps avoid muscle sprain
  • If you chose to walk the course, use proper bag lifting technique, carry the bag properly (bag straps over both shoulders to evenly divide the weight), push the bag cart instead of pulling it, and, if you decide to ride, be the driver so you can anticipate rough terrain.

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