With the warmer weather approaching, the driving ranges and golf courses will become much busier with golfers eager to start the season. Although golf is usually perceived as a fairly low impact, leisure activity, it has been estimated that every year roughly 40% of recreational golfers sustain an injury, with the most common site of injury being the lower back. Research has shown that the compression force going through the lumbar spine in amateur golfers when driving the ball, is roughly 6100 N. In comparison, cadaver studies have shown that a lumbar disc will herniate at forces around 5500 N. As such, although the golf swing appears fluid and easy, there is certainly enough force produced in the spine to lead to lower back injury. Many other factors can lead to lower back pain, including aspects of the golf swing itself, overall fitness level and regular habits on the golf course, such as how you transport your clubs, whether you warm up or not and how often you practice.
Why do golfers get lower back pain and what can you do to prevent it?
The core muscles play a critical role in protecting and stabilizing the lower back during the golf swing. Furthermore, using these muscles properly during the golf swing has also been shown to help increase club head speed and power. Research has shown that golfers with lower back pain have decreased core strength and don’t use their core properly during their golf swing. A golf specific core exercise program begins with learning how to isolate the key muscles to progressions on how to incorporate them into your golf swing. TIP: Next time you’re getting ready to hit the ball, reduce the amount of stress on the lower back structures by turning on your core muscles. In order to do this, think about drawing in your belly button and tightening your abdominal muscles prior to starting your backswing.
Flexibility is a key component, especially in the hips, shoulders and trunk in order to achieve a full range of motion from the back swing to the follow through. Research has shown that lack of rotation in the hips (especially the lead hip) will put increased stress through the spine. TIP: If you are lacking mobility in your hips or lower back, you may want to try turning both your feet out 25 degrees when setting up to hit the ball. This slight toe-out position will decrease the amount of rotation that needs to come from the spine.
Transporting your clubs
As nice as it would be to have a caddy carrying your clubs, the vast majority of recreational golfers have to depend on themselves to lug their clubs around the course. Research has shown that golfers who carry their clubs are significantly more likely to develop lower back pain, since the weight of the bag leads to increased compression loads on the spine. However, pull carts can also be problematic, as they require twisting of the spine, and riding in a golf cart doesn’t allow the muscles to warm up and stay loose as they would while walking. TIP: If you’re an avid golfer with lower back pain, your best bet is to splurge and get a remote controlled electronic cart that you can walk beside; second best would be a push cart.
Golf Club Fit
Off the shelf clubs are a standard length, with womens’ clubs designed for someone who is 5’4″ and mens’ clubs for someone who is 5’10″. As such, if you’re a 6’3″ male, buying a set of clubs off the shelf, you will certainly notice that you need to bend a lot more during your downswing to make contact with the ball. This will lead to increased flexion and side bending in the spine, which over a course of 18 holes will eventually lead to strain on the lower back. TIP: Spending the extra money to get your clubs properly fitted, will help your swing and your lower back.
Set-up posture plays a crucial role in how much stress will be generated in the lower back. If the lower back is slouched, then there is increased risk for injury. TIP: Make sure that when you’re addressing the ball that your knees are slightly bent and you are bending from the hips, not the back.
At Sheddon Physiotherapy and Sports Clinic, our level 4 FITforeGOLF™ certified providers focus on innovative research on the science of golf health and performance. Therapy focuses on swing mechanics, coupled with a golfer’s specific injury to get the him/her back on the course faster and injury free.
This blog was based on the works of David Lindsay PT MSc and Dean Walker CPGA who have taught excellent courses to our therapists through the FITforeGOLF™ program. For more information you can visit the FITforeGOLF™ website at www.fitforegolf.com