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Don't Let Your Back Be A Golfer's Back

Posted by Douglas W. Stoddard MD, M Sp Med, Dip Sport Med, ES on 1 June 2015
Don't Let Your Back Be A Golfer's Back

The sun is shining and the birds a-chirpin'.

Breathe in, breathe out. You elegantly twist back, with a natural flow reflecting that of a chattering stream running down the open glade, and mightily swing at the ball resting peacefully on the tee. As the ball launches into the air with a deafening echo of explosive impact that soon follows its trail, you slowly release your form and gleefully watch as it lands into the hole---or the bottomless lake miles away from your intended target. Oops.

Either way, there's very little that beats that feeling you get when you're out golfing with your buds.

The popularity of golf has exploded in the last several years, and is still consistently growing at such a pace that approximately 30 million people in North America are now classified as "regular golfers". With this growth comes research and development into improving all types of golf equipment to help enhance the players' game. However, the most important piece of equipment is often overlooked.

The Delicate Human Body

Although golf may appear harmless, it is, in fact, extremely taxing on the human body. Not only does it require miles of walking, carrying/lifting of golf clubs and repetitive bending to place/pick up the balls, the gleeful swing of the club itself is very physically demanding. It requires an intricate combination of muscle and joint motions to coordinate an efficient, and effective, energy transfer from the body to the ball. Most often, these movements are at extremes of range, at high velocities and are repetitive in nature. In fact, some touring professionals will repeat their swing up to 500 times a day. You may not think it, but the above factors can make golfers highly prone to injury; 30% of golfers have golf related injuries and approximately 50% of injuries become chronic.

Your Poor, Poor Back...

Although poor technique, a decreased fitness level and an increase in age are some of the key factors, the leading cause of injury in golf is overuse. The most common and major area of injury is the lower back, followed by injuries seen to the lead arm (left arm in right handed golfers).

During a golf swing, the spine bends forward, bends backward, bends sideways and rotates in a quick sequence. That's a lot of extreme back-and-forth movement your spine has to perform! If the form is iffy and/or the distribution in strength, flexibility or coordination of joints and muscles is erratic, you're going to end up in a world of pain. And not to mention a terrible swing your friends will probably laugh at until you're miserable!

The repetitive compressive forces on the spine can wear-and-tear the spinal joints. This has been shown on CT scans and MRI diagnostic studies, particularly on the trail side (right side in right handed golfers). This is typically known as the 'Golfer's Back'.

Tips for Preventing Golfer's Back

Warm Up

How often have you stumbled to the first tee struggling to make your tee off time, and hit your first shot completely cold? You've probably heard this before, but warming up the muscles with stretching is important to maintain flexibility and prevent injuries. And that includes damage to other parts of your body. Take a few minutes to stretch your muscles from your neck to your ankles.

Your physiotherapist, massage therapist or athletic therapist can show you more stretches or modifications if you have any specific injuries that need attention. He/she can also provide you with more details on technique as well.

Be Fit or Be Split

As with all sports, the more fit the body, the better your performance will be. Walking approximately 7 miles on the course can be tiring in itself, but add trying to hit a small white ball into a tiny hole hundreds of yards away several times! It really can come down to survival of the fittest.

Strength and flexibility training is a mandatory part of many professional golfers' regular routine these days. They are learning the importance of staying fit and how it improves their golf game and decreases the risk of injury. And don't forget about your core stability training! The most important muscles in golf are the deep abdominal and deep back muscles that provide power and acceleration to the swing and protection to the spine. The body's "core muscles" have received a lot of attention lately in research related to back pain and chronic back injuries. You may have heard of this term if you are familiar with Pilates or Yoga. Back rehabilitation will often focus on core stability as a part of treatment for back pain and dysfunction. (You can learn more about core stability in detail in the May 2003 issue of The SEMI eReport)

Get Treated Early

You know what they say: the early bird gets the worm! Seeking early treatment for injuries has been shown to increase the likelihood of a full recovery. Your physiotherapist, sports medicine physician, or chiropractor can assess your back for problems with weakness, stiffness or imbalances that may be contributing to your back pain. He/she can then develop an appropriate treatment plan to get you back on the links as soon as possible. 

If your clinician is familiar with the proper golf swing, he/she can assess it to determine what may be the cause of your pain. For example, during impact, the trunk will bend to the side and the hips will slide towards the target. If this motion is excessive, there is a strong chance that it will cause back pain, as the joints and discs of the spine undergo a lot of compressive force. This leads us to the next tip.

Wow, Such Technique!

If you're experiencing pain while golfing, it may be a good idea to visit a teaching professional to have your swing analyzed. Perhaps your swing plane is too steep or your posture at address is incorrect. These problems can be investigated by your local teaching pro. However, if you still continue to have pain after rehabilitation, you may need permanent modifications in your technique that adapt to your bodies limitations. For example, the aging golfer will be less flexible than when he was in his earlier years. He may need to change certain parts of his swing to accommodate to his changing abilities. Both your trained health care clinician and golf professional together can help problem solve your specific needs.

Take a Load Off Your Back

If you have back pain but prefer to carry your clubs around the course, use a lightweight bag with double padded straps. And of course, try to bring only what you need. Take out anything extra you may not use - including clubs! Hand held carts are likely the best option for back pain sufferers. Ideally, pushing, rather than pulling, the cart would be the least harmful for your body.

Be All Brawn and All Brains

Remember, it's not just about body strength and technique. It's also about the knowledge you gain from research that'll keep you away from hurting yourself while golfing. Don't let your back be a Golfer's Back! Staying fit can be difficult if pain inhibits your participation in sports, so it'd be wise to take care of your body so that you can keep playing more rounds for years to come. 

Are you experiencing back and joint pains after your golfing sessions? SEMI's team of sports physiotherapists offers a variety of treatment options that can help you treat those pains and also help create a new set of golfing practice that's safe and effective. To learn more about our personal training, back/joint treatment or other athletic services, contact us today!

 

References:

    Lyndsay, D. Golfer's Back : Technique Factors. Fit fore Golf Course Manual. 2003
    Lyndsay, D. Golfer's Back: Five Stage Back Care Program. Fit fore Golf Course Manual. 2003

Alison Cheng  B.Sc., P.T.
Registered Physiotherapist  Printed: July 2004
Copyright ©2004 SEMI

Author: Douglas W. Stoddard MD, M Sp Med, Dip Sport Med, ES
About: Dr. Douglas Stoddard is a sports medicine physician and is the Medical Director of the Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute (SEMI). After receiving his medical degree from the University of Toronto, he trained in Australia at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, obtaining his Master Degree in Sports Medicine. He is also a diplomat of the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine and has his focussed practice designation in Sport Medicine from the Ontario Medical Association. Dr. Stoddard is a consultant to the Canadian Military and has consulted with well over 30,000 unique patients in his career. Dr. Stoddard is constantly searching for new and promising therapies to help SEMI patients, and is responsible for developing the RegenerVate Medical Injection Therapy Program. He is married and the proud father of two boys, is an avid triathlete and occasional guitar player.
Tags: Lower body Prevention Treatment options

 

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