Bones, joints, and muscles
Is back pain ruining your golf game?
Low back pain represents one of the most common and costly diagnoses
the health profession manages on a continuous basis. It is one of the most
common reasons to visit a physician, physical therapist, or chiropractor. The
costs for evaluating and treating low back pain patients are estimated to be
beyond $50 billion dollars a year in the US.
Regardless of the costs from the multiple diagnostic options, physical
therapists and other healthcare practitioners must become more efficient and
effective with their treatment plans. Treatment must be aimed at the individual
with the back problem rather than at the back problem itself. It is crucial for
the clinician to include in his or her clinical assessments examination of
the patient and his or her ability to function rather than to focus solely
on the traditional clinical tests of impairments such as range of motion
and strength tests.
Traditional exercises have been shown to be an effective treatment modality
for patients with low back injury. Multiple studies have examined the benefits
of exercise in treating patients with low back pain; however, there have been
very few published reports describing specific program designs as it relates to
Golf injuries to the low back represent the most common problems affecting both the
professional and amateur player. It's poor technique and the repetition of
hitting balls that usually lead to an injury. Combine that with the typical
sedentary lifestyle (in which people drive to/from work in a seated position
and work in a seated position for most of the day), and you begin to understand
why there is such a high incidence of back pain among golfers.
A back injury results from excessive stress placed on the spine—usually when
the body does not perform the correct sequence during the golf swing. Here is
an astonishing fact: eight times your body weight is forced through your spine
as you make contact with the ball. So if you have poor mechanics combined with
a weak back, you are more likely to cause yourself a significant amount of injury.
To avoid back pain, I recommend you start by visiting a health professional
for a golf-specific training program. A well-trained health professional is
able to identify skeletal and muscle imbalances and give you correct, golf-specific
exercises to improve your posture and overall conditioning specific to golf.
Correct posture and muscle balance will enable you to get into the proper
positions required to swing the golf club effectively.
The golf swing is considered a very unnatural movement for most people,
especially for people with a sedentary lifestyle. As with most sports, golf
is a sport that requires a lot of rotary movement. When we sit for the most
part of the day, certain muscles get used to that position and become "tight"
while other muscles get "stretched out". This leads to significant muscle
imbalances that then put unnecessary stress on the back.
In all likelihood, golf muscles have "shut down" due to players' sitting for
long periods. Effectively, the muscles that absorb force and reduce load in a
golf swing (that is, the lower and deep abdominals) are relatively weak and
aren't able to work together. And if a player's hips and shoulders are tight, there
is a greater chance of moving incorrectly.
The golfer's checklist to ensure a healthy back:
- Visit a physical therapist or chiropractor well versed in assigning golfers
a golf-specific physical assessment and conditioning program.
- Take a lesson from a PGA professional about basic fundamentals and how
the body should move during the golf swing. Hopefully the PGA instructor
uses video to analyze your swing.
- Practice golf-specific drills that teach the correct movements in your
swing, which will decrease the chances of injuring your back.
- Ensure your clubs are fitted properly for you (e.g., are your clubs too
short or long? Are the shafts too flexible or stiff?)
- Make sure you do a golf-specific warm-up routine prior to hitting balls
or playing golf.
About the Author:
Dr. Robert V. Duvall, DPT, MPT, ATC, MGFI, graduated from Shenandoah
University's Program in Physical Therapy with a Master of Physical Therapy
degree in 1998. He earned his Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree from the
Physical Therapy Program at Shenandoah University. Visit
to sign up for your free back pain e-mail educational course.