For the millions of people who have chronic, long-standing low back pain, golf can still be an enjoyable sport. However, a regular routine of stretching is critical to maintain the ability to play golf. A little effort to prevent back injury and low back pain goes a long way. Four key areas of prevention for the sport of golf include: warm-up, swing, bio-mechanics, and carrying the golf bag.
- Warm-up before playing golf to prevent low back pain Going directly to the tee, pulling out the driver, and trying to hit the ball at maximum power is probably the easiest way to sprain one’s back muscles and result in low back pain. Instead, a thorough warm-up before starting to golf is critical. Stretches should emphasize the shoulder, torso, and hip regions as well as the hamstring muscles.
Next, gently swinging a golf club helps warm up the necessary muscle groups and prepares them for the force and twisting that a golf swing produces. Going to the driving range before playing is very helpful. Golf practice should begin with the smaller irons and progress up to the larger woods. This process allows the muscles to incrementally warm up. Overall, muscles that have been stretched are much less prone to being injured and can take more stress before either being strained.
- Practice swinging before playing golf to prevent low back pain Golfers should emphasize a smooth, rhythmic swing, as this produces less stress and less low back pain because it minimizes muscular effort and disc and facet joint loading. The spine should be straight, and the golfer should bend forward from the hips. Weight should be distributed evenly on the balls of the feet.
- Bio-mechanics of golf and the low back The force generated by a golf swing largely stresses the L5-S1 disc space because the joints at this segment allow considerable rotation. The other joints in the low back allow more flexion/extension and not as much rotation and are relatively protected. Most conditions that affect the L5-S1 level are more common in the younger population of golfers (30-40 year olds), such as degenerative disc disease, and this younger age group also tends to swing the hardest while playing golf.
- Carrying the golf bag safely to prevent low back pain Repeated bending over to pick up a golf bag can stress the low back and lead to a muscle strain. An integrated golf bag stand that opens when the bag is set on the ground can eliminate the need to bend over. Some individuals like to carry their own golf bag to get more exercise, and while this may be a good idea, bag straps that place all the pressure on one shoulder can be hard on the back. It is advisable to use dual straps on the golf bag to evenly divide the weight across the back and reduce the chances of developing low back pain from an uneven load.
The good thing is that most acute low back injuries that occur during a game of golf will get better over a couple of days to weeks, depending on the injury, and chiropractic care may help speed up the healing process.
Article contributed by Dr. Hailey Coonrad, 2014 Wellpath Chiropractic Intern