Golf is a game that requires the use of several muscle groups to achieve a smooth and flowing swing. In the quest for perfection, it is easy to over-rely on certain muscle groups, causing repetitive motion injuries. A 2013 study published in Sports Health indicated that low back pain is one of the most common golf-related injuries, accounting for more than 34.5% of all complaints.
Maintaining proper mobility and strength is crucial for golfers who want to avoid low back pain. In this article, we'll explore the causes of low back pain in golfers, how golf swing mechanics contribute, and some exercises that can help prevent this pain.
- Incorporate physical therapy exercises into your training routine that focus on strengthening the hip and core muscles and improving mobility of the thoracic spine and hip flexors
- Maintain proper posture throughout your swing to avoid putting excess stress on your lower back
- Use proper equipment such as shoes and clubs that are properly fitted
- Stay hydrated and engage in a proper warm-up and cool-down routine
Causes of Low Back Pain While Golfing
There are several physical limitations that golfers may experience that can ultimately lead to low back pain. These limitations may include hip mobility limitations, thoracic spine mobility deficits, and hip and core weakness.
Hip Mobility Limitations
The hip joint is crucial for golfers because of the degree of hip rotation required in a strong golf swing. Hip mobility refers to the ability of the hip joint to move through its full range of motion. Golfers with limited hip mobility may compensate by rotating through their lower back, leading to excessive stress on the lumbar spine. Low back pain due to limited hip mobility can be avoided by incorporating stretches that target the hip muscles. Such stretches include the half-kneeling hip flexor stretch and the piriformis stretch.
Thoracic Spine Mobility Deficits
Thoracic spine mobility refers to the ability of the upper back to move and rotate in a controlled manner. Golfers with poor thoracic spine mobility tend to compensate by rotating excessively through their lower back, increasing the risk of low back pain. Stretching and mobilization exercises that target the thoracic spine can be used to improve this mobility, such as sidelying thoracic rotations.
Hip and Core Weakness
Hip and core weakness is often linked to low back pain. The golf swing starts with the feet and legs, and gains acceleration as the hips and core muscles initiate rotation. Weakness in these areas tends to lead to compensations through other muscle groups, stressing the lumbar spine. Strength training exercises, such as glute bridges and bird dogs, can be used to strengthen the hip and core muscles, helping to avoid low back pain.
Golf Swing Mechanics and Low Back Pain
The mechanics of the golf swing can also lead to low back pain. Two swing faults that are closely tied to low back pain are the reverse spine angle and early extension.
Reverse Spine Angle
The reverse spine angle occurs when golfers rotate the upper body in one direction while the lower body rotates in the other direction. This puts the spine in an unnatural position, leading to excessive stress on the lower back. Golfers with a reverse spine angle are more likely to experience low back pain as a result. Correcting this fault involves incorporating swing drills to help train the body to rotate more efficiently.
Another swing fault that can contribute to low back pain is early extension. This occurs when the golfer straightens up or extends the lower back prematurely in the downswing. As the golfer stands up, the angle between the upper body and the ground decreases, leading to excessive pressure on the lumbar spine. To prevent this fault, golfers should focus on maintaining proper posture throughout the entire swing.
Flexibility and Strength Training for Preventing Back Pain
To avoid low back pain, it is essential to address physical limitations that can lead to injury. Physical therapy exercises can help to improve mobility and strengthen the muscles that support the spine.
Side Lying Thoracic Rotations
This exercise helps to improve thoracic spine mobility. Starting in a side-lying position with the knees bent, reach the top hand out in front of the body. Then, exhale, and rotate the top arm upwards and towards the opposite side of the body. Hold this position for a few seconds, then inhale and return to the starting position. Repeat this movement for a few repetitions on each side.
Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
This exercise helps to improve hip mobility, particularly in the flexor muscles. Starting in a half-kneeling position, tuck the pelvis under while engaging the glutes. Then, push the hips forward while maintaining the tucked pelvis and engaged glutes. Hold this position for a few seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.
The piriformis muscle is located deep in the buttock, and tightness in this muscle can lead to low back pain. Starting in a seated position, cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Use the opposite hand to gently press the bent knee away from the body until a stretch is felt in the buttock. Hold this position for a few seconds, then switch sides.
The glute muscles are essential for maintaining proper alignment and stability in the pelvis and lumbar spine. To perform a glute bridge, lie on your back with the knees bent, feet flat on the ground, and arms by your sides. Engage your glutes and lift your hips towards the ceiling, forming a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower back down to the starting position. Repeat this movement for a few repetitions.
Bird dogs are an exercise that helps to strengthen the core muscles. To perform this exercise, start in a tabletop position on all fours. Engage your core and lift one arm and the opposite leg off the ground until they are parallel to the ground. Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower back down and switch to the other side.
Additional Tips for Preventing Low Back Pain
Aside from exercises and stretches, there are other ways golfers can avoid low back pain. Proper warm-up and cool-down routines can help prepare the body for physical activity and reduce the risk of injury.
Maintaining good posture throughout the swing is also important. Golfers should focus on keeping their spine in a neutral position at all times to avoid excessive stress on the lumbar spine.
Using proper equipment, such as shoes with good arch support and a properly fitted golf club, can also help to prevent low back pain. Additionally, staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining the health of muscles and joints.
Low back pain is a common injury among golfers and can be caused by physical limitations such as hip mobility deficits, thoracic spine mobility deficits, and hip and core weakness. Swing faults such as the reverse spine angle and early extension can also contribute to low back pain.
Injury prevention can be achieved through regular physical therapy exercises such as glute bridges, bird dogs, and stretching routines that target the hip flexors, piriformis, and thoracic spine.
Additionally maintaining proper posture throughout the swing can help avoid unnecessary stress on the lower back. Using proper equipment such as shoes and clubs, staying hydrated, and engaging in warm-up and cool-down routines can all contribute to avoiding low back pain and staying healthy on the golf course.
Overall, incorporating exercises and routines to maintain physical health and prevent injury is crucial for golfers who want to avoid low back pain and play an enjoyable game of golf.