Golf has exploded in popularity in the last few decades. As of 2015, approximately 30 million North Americans were considered “regular golfers”. This surge in popularity has prompted the development of new, redesigned golfing equipment to enhance players’ performance. Unfortunately, the most important piece of equipment is often overlooked.
Golf’s Toll on the Human Body
While golf may seem like a leisurely sport, it is actually extremely taxing on the human body. Golf requires miles of walking, carrying/lifting of golf clubs, and repetitive bending to place/pick up the balls. And of course, the gleeful swing of the club itself is very physically demanding. A golf swing requires an intricate combination of muscle and joint motions to coordinate an energy transfer from your body to the ball. These movements are highly repetitive, and typically occur at high velocities and at extremes in your range of motion. These factors make golfers highly prone to injury. In fact, over 30% of golfers have golf-related injuries, and about 50% of these injuries become chronic.
Back Injuries & Overuse
Although old age, incorrect technique, and a poor fitness level can all increase your risk of injury, the leading cause of injury in golf is actually overuse. The most common area of injury is the lower back, followed by injuries to the lead arm (e.g. the left arm in right-handed golfers).
During a golf swing, the spine bends forward, bends backward, bends sideways, and then rotates in a quick sequence. That’s a lot of extreme back-and-forth movement your spine has to perform! If your form is poor, and/or the distribution of strength, flexibility, and coordination of joints/muscles is erratic, you’re going to end up injured and in pain.
These repetitive, compressive forces on the spine can increase the wear-and-tear in your spinal joints. This has been shown on CT scans and MRI diagnostic studies, particularly on the trail side (e.g. the right side in right-handed golfers). This condition is most commonly known as “Golfer’s Back.”
Preventing Golfer’s Back
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 your muscles with stretching and light movement is extremely important in helping to prevent injury and maintain flexibility. Take a few minutes to stretch your muscles from your neck to your ankles.
Golf is a physically demanding sport. Strength and flexibility training can help golfers stay fit, improve their performance, and decrease their risk of injury. Core stability training is vital as well; a golfer’s most important muscles are the deep abdominal and deep back muscles, which provide power and acceleration to the swing, and protection to the spine. Poor core strength is associated with an increased risk of back pain and chronic back injuries. Back injury rehabilitation will often focus on improving core stability, which is an essential part of treatment for back pain and dysfunction.
You know what they say: the early bird gets the worm! Seeking early treatment for injuries increases the likelihood of a full recovery. A physiotherapist, sports medicine physician, or other qualified practitioner can assess your back for problems with weakness, stiffness, or imbalances that may be contributing to your back pain. They can then develop an appropriate treatment plan so that you can return to the links as soon as possible.
If your clinician is familiar with the proper technique, they can assess your golf swing to determine what may be causing of your pain. For example, when your golf club hits the ball, your trunk will bend to the side and your hips will slide towards the target (the direction in which you’ve hit the ball). If this motion is excessive, it can cause significant back pain, as the joints and discs of the spine undergo a lot of compressive force. This leads us to the next tip.
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, an aging golfer will be less flexible than in their earlier years. This golfer may need to change certain parts of their swing to accommodate to their changing abilities. A golf professional and a trained health care clinician can help you to problem solve and adapt your technique to your specific needs.
Lighten Your Load
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! We recommend using hand-held push carts or motorized golf carts, to minimize your risk of further injury.
Be All Brawn and All Brains
While proper technique and body strength can help prevent injuries, knowledge is also an important component of staying pain-free and strong. By learning about injury prevention and listening to your body, you can make informed decisions when it comes to taking care of your health and fitness. If you are experiencing pain, don’t try to push through it; it’ll just make things worse. Instead, take the time to get proper assessment and treatment. Remember, knowledge is power; the more you know about injury prevention, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the game.
Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute is the leading sports medicine, physiotherapy, and chiropractic clinic in the Greater Toronto Area. We offer expert diagnoses, a variety of treatment options, and high-quality care. Click here to learn more about the services we offer, or contact us to schedule an appointment