Don’t let golf-related back injuries keep you from hitting the links

For many, the warm months of summer evoke thoughts of long and lovely hours spent on the golf course. Unfortunately for some, it also means lower back pain. But with the right prevention, hitting the links doesn’t have to lead to back pain or injury.

So what are the most common golfing-related back injuries?

  • Strains & sprains to muscles: These kinds of back injuries are typically mild and will resolve themselves within 2 to 4 weeks with rest. But lasting muscle range-of-motion problems and stiffness can make it uncomfortable to get back to playing golf again quickly.
  • The discs between the vertebrae act as shock absorbers to help the spine handle with compressive forces. The great rotation and extension motion necessary to swing a golf club – especially when done incorrectly – can tear these discs, resulting in pain and dysfunction in the lower back and legs. 
  • Degenerative arthritis: Joints in the lower back can be worn down and impaired by wear and tear. This is known as degenerative arthritis. Since the back often does the majority of work swinging a golf club, this problem can occur more frequently there

Since prevention is always better than the best cure, stopping back injuries before they start is the optimal strategy. Follow these tips to avoid golf-related back problems: 


Do

Do warm up first

Warm up before a round by slowly stretching the torso, shoulder and hip regions, as well as your hamstrings. One survey showed that more than 8 in 10 golfers spent less than 10 minutes warming up before a round, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM). 

Do start slowly and build up

Even with a reasonable warm up, it’s important to start slowly and build up to bigger swings. Don’t have your first swing be a full on shot. Recognize that it will take your body a little time to loosen up.

Do get help with your swing

Hiring a golf pro, even for a short consultation, is a smart move to prevent golf-related back injuries. Golfers should aim for a smooth, rhythmic swing, since this results in less stress on the lower spine and fewer back injuries. Sometimes, however, golfers can’t achieve a balanced swing on their own and need a golf pro to tweak their technique. 

Do use self-treatment measures to reduce post game pain

These might include rest; heat and/or ice on the aching area; and anti-inflammatory over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen. 


Don't

Do not carry your own bag

Golf is already a pricey sport, but shell out a little more cash for a caddy, or use a golf cart to tote your clubs. Golfers who carry their own bags have twice the incidence of back, shoulder and ankle injuries as those who don’t, according to the AAOSM. 

Do not tee off without some gentle stretching

Getting to the tee, pulling out your driver and hitting the ball full-blast without warming up first is simply a bad idea.

Do not play right away after a lower back injury

While it might be difficult advice for die-hard golfers, rest is important. Wait until the pain subsides before getting out on the links again and then be sure to take it slow. 

Do not play through the pain

If you have lingering pain from golf, don’t push it. Give yourself and rest and if the pain persists, see a doctor.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

For most, pain and injury to the lower back from golfing will feel better over a few days to a few weeks. Golfers should employ self-treatment measures such as rest; anti-inflammatory over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen; and heat and/or ice on the aching area. However, If pain or stiffness does not resolve after a few weeks, it is time to visit a spine physician to determine what other treatment may be needed. 


More expert advice about Golf

Photo Credits: Kelly swings by CK Golf Solutions vua Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Kaixuan Liu MD, PhDLeader in Endoscopic Spinal Surgery

Kaixuan Liu, MD, is a board-certified physician who is fellowship-trained in minimally invasive spine surgery at Atlantic Spine Center. Atlantic Spine Center is a nationally recognized leader for endoscopic spine surgery with three locations in ...

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