Friday, June 26, 2020 - Avoiding low back injuries for golfers is as easy as 1, 2, 3 … fore!

With golf, the key movement is rotation. Many people will compensate without even knowing it and put too much rotation through their lumbar spine. (Stock photo)

By Mike J. McNeil PT DPT ATC,

Usually, most recreational golfers are hitting the links on a regular basis a couple of times a month at this time of year.  But thanks to COVID, 2020 has been a different year with regards to social and recreational activities.

While some golfers have been fortunate enough to be able to knock out a round or two on their favorite course, many have hardly picked up a club in months, if at all. As you look to return to the game on a more regular basis this summer, now’s a perfect time to focus on how to prevent and/or reduce the risk for low back pain.   

Golf club and ball manufacturers use the latest and most advanced engineering and materials in the design and manufacturing of equipment. How many times have you heard yourself say, “If I buy this new club, it’s going to help my score”? But, really, your time would be better spent if you took into account your exercise and fitness level. 

Most of us, if we’re honest, know we need work when it comes to our exercise regimen. We need some flexibility exercises, and we need to get stronger. 

Let’s talk about flexibility first. With golf, the key movement is rotation. The main areas in the golf swing where you get rotation should be in your hips and thoracic spine (the area of your back between your neck and lower back).

These areas are often very tight in recreational golfers, but even if that’s the case, you still have to rotate somewhere. Many people will compensate without even knowing it and put too much rotation through their lumbar spine. Due to the repetitive nature of the golf swing, this leads to breakdown in the tissues of the lower back which, in turn, leads to injury.

To avoid that, you should regularly stretch your hip rotators, hamstrings and your thoracic spine. Those are some of the key areas that will help get you that proper rotation needed for a proper golf swing.

The next area of your fitness level to address is your core strength. A lot of golfers do not have sufficient strength in their core. Your core is made up of the lower abdominal muscles, your back extensor muscles and your hip muscles (especially your gluteal muscles). Your gluteal strength in your hips is very important in terms of supporting your lower back. 

With a weak core, the spine doesn’t have the support it needs. The muscles will not be able to do their job and, as mentioned above, there’s quite a bit of rotation through the body in the golf swing. If the muscles are not able to absorb those forces, the structures in your spine are going to have to absorb them. Once again, that sets you up for an injury. 

The last area to address when trying to avoid lower back pain in golf is your preparation before your round.

Most golfers do not warm up at all before their round. They just head to the course, grab the driver and start hitting away for the next three or four hours. If you haven’t picked up a club in the past few months, your body definitely isn’t used to that. I would recommend you start with some stretching and strengthening exercises at home a week or two before you begin playing again.

When you actually go out to the course, try to arrive 30 minutes early and walk around to warm up your body. Implement a series of warm-up-type stretches, such as putting a club behind your back and doing some rotation using the club to apply a gentle rotation stretch. Perform some simple hamstring and calf stretches on the driving range, and then warm-up with your lower irons for five or 10 minutes before heading out to the first tee. 

If you need any guidance on what types of stretches or core-strengthening exercises to do to prepare your body for the golf course, seek out a physical therapist. Physical therapists are trained to identify areas in your body that are weak or too tight and then can help you create exercise programs to address those areas.

Follow the tips in this article to increase your fitness level, and you’ll be less likely to have an injury out on the links.

Mike J. McNeil is the rehab services manager at St. Tammany Health System’s Outpatient Rehab Clinic in Covington.