Golf has a lot of health benefits, but like any sport, you run a risk of getting injured.
Is golf bad for your back? Golf is a game of repetitive, rotational movements that can strain your low, mid, and upper back. Lower back pain is the most common golf injury. Golfers who have weak muscles around their spine are most at risk. Daily stretching, warm-ups, and cool-downs before and after playing can prevent issues.
There are more ways to prevent injury, so read to the end to learn everything you need to know to stay healthy.
In this article, I will cover topics about the potential issues golf can have on your back and ways to prevent them from happening.
The following will be covered:
- Why Can Golf Cause Back Pain?
- Common Back Injuries Associated With Golf
- How To Deal With Back Injuries
- Ways To Avoid Back Pain While Golfing
Why Golf Can Cause Back Pain?
Hands down, the most common injuries for golfers are back-related issues. This is because the golf swing requires the body to make very unnatural movements to hit the ball.
You don’t have to look very far to find examples of golf affecting the body, particularly the back, of some of the game’s greats…Tiger Woods, Jason Day, and Fred Couples are examples. These top-tier golfers have generally kept themselves in excellent shape as they came up through the game, but the repetitive motion of the swing, and the frequency at which they performed it, eventually took its toll on them.
The lumbar spine, or lower back, is the most common location affected by the golf swing.
It is typical for instructors and coaches, myself included, to encourage players to restrict hip turn in the backswing to “coil” up more. This will increase the potential to generate more potential power.
The resistance between the rotation of the upper body against the lower body creates what’s been coined as the “X Factor.” The more you increase your “X Factor Stretch,” the more potential you have to deliver the clubface into the ball powerfully.
The problem is that the abnormal rotational forces necessary to achieve this can strain the lower back and spine.
If a golfer properly stretches and strengthens their core and lower back, they will significantly limit the potential for future back problems that can stem from golf.
Read more: The Most Common Golf Injuries
Common Back Injuries Associated With Golf
According to Dr. Lali Sekhon of the Reno Orthopedic Center in Nevada, golf-related back injuries typically fall into four categories:
This is just another way to describe low back pain. Specifically, Dr. Sekhon calls these “myofascial injuries,” or tight, injured muscles that result from excessive strain.
These are often severe injuries involving the vertebrae and the cushioned pads between them moving out of position.
Exacerbated Facet Arthritis
This is also known as spondylosis or osteoarthritis of the spine. This happens when the cartilage within the spine breaks down over time.
Dr. Sekhon classifies these as “the weird stuff that happens when alcohol is combined with physical activity, like falls and golf cart accidents.”
Dr. Amit Kamra of Miami, FL, has been a lifelong friend of mine since kindergarten. We played high school golf together and have continued a long friendship with golf at the core. Dr. Kamra is a scratch golfer himself. He is also someone I turn to often regarding medical questions. He shared with me the following…
“The most common back injury related to golf happens in the lower back. It stems from poor mobility of the hips and upper back. When you overuse these areas in the golf swing, and they are not equipped to handle those rotational forces, you will strain this area.”
More from Golf Span: The Health Benefits of Golf – Is Golf Good Exercise?
How To Deal With Back Injuries
The key to dealing with back injuries related to golf lies in prevention and taking proactive measures to avoid issues. As discussed previously, the most common cause of the typical back-related problems in golfers is poor lower and upper back mobility. This would include the hips and shoulders. A weak core, or abdominals, can also lead to lower back issues.
The best way to avoid back issues is to incorporate a regular strength and stretching routine. Additionally, you want to have a quick warm-up and cool-down routine that you do before and after golf activities.
Very few back issues, if caught early enough, need surgery. Back surgery should always be seen as a last-ditch effort! Practicing regular preventative measures is always best.
When a golfer can build up the muscles in the lower back, the core, and the buttocks, they will protect the back during the swing. The potentially harmful rotational forces happening within the body during the swing can be counteracted by being strong in critical areas of the body.
An unstable core can cause lower back problems and directly correlate with swing flaws, such as early extension and the inability to rotate through impact.
The video above covers how to build a great strength training program, specifically focusing on the lower back and core.
If you can increase mobility in your mid and upper back, you can take pressure off your lower back. The lower body, particularly the hips, can not rotate as much as the upper body can. Trying to do so can be damaging to your lower back.
By increasing mobility in your upper back, you will have fewer rotational forces in the lower back. This will decrease the risk of injury in your lower back.
Check out the Lower Back episode of MyTPI’s Golf Fitness Academy below to learn more about putting a great back pain prevention workout together.
For expecting moms that golf: Can You Golf While Pregnant?
Ways To Avoid Back Pain While Golfing
The following tips will help you avoid back pain while you play golf.
1. Do a Pre-Round Stretching Routine- Incorporating a pre-round stretching routine before playing will help warm your body and get it ready. This is one of the most fundamental ways to prevent injury in golf or other physical activities.
- At Home- Use a foam roller to loosen up your mid back, shoulders, and hips. Additionally, use it to help open up your chest wall. The idea is to prep your body for the 4-5 hours you will be on the course, moving parts of the body in ways you don’t usually.
- At Course- Before your round, while on the range, think about the golf swing’s movements. Then, use a PVC pipe, a stretching pole, or even an alignment stick or club and begin to dynamically warm up, making movements as you would in the swing.
2. Improve Your Posture- Poor posture as you address the ball and throughout your swing can cause unnecessary lower back issues. A prevalent problem when golfers set up to the ball is having too much curve in their lower back as they get set in their posture.
Have a look at the following video, which addresses the problems of poor posture and bad backs.
3. Learn How to Turn Back Properly- Understanding how your body works and how you must turn correctly in the golf swing will help you avoid lower and mid-back issues. The reverse spine angle or pivot indicates not rotating your body correctly.
Check out this video from Dr. Greg Rose, co-founder of My TPI, to learn more about turning correctly in your swing and eliminating potential problems in your back.
4. Learn How to Clear Your Hips in the Downswing- Moving your body correctly in the downswing, by posting up into your lead leg and clearing your hips properly will help take pressure off your lower body. Many golfers who hang back on their trail side and slide the lead hip, with little clearing of the hips, will put stress on the lower back.
5. Stay Hydrated When Playing- Dehydration can be a severe health problem. Your organs and entire body must stay hydrated to work correctly. This goes for the discs within your spine as well. You lose a lot of water when you play golf, so staying hydrated is very important.
Check this out: Best Golf Swing Tips (with Photos)
Can People With Back Problems Play Golf?
People with back problems can play golf. However, it will require preventative measures, including stretching and core strengthening exercises, to prevent further issues with their back that could stem from golf.
What Is the Most Common Back Injury in Golf?
The most common back injury from playing golf is "myofascial injuries," or tight, injured muscles resulting from excessive strain. These issues commonly arise due to golfers having limited mobility and a lack of strength to support the forces of the golf swing on the body.
Summing It Up
Now you can answer, is golf bad for your back? Golf can indeed cause back issues.
However, these issues can be prevented with proper measures in place. These include increasing your mobility, strengthening your core and lower back, and understanding the correct movements necessary for your body while swinging the club.
PGA Professional Brendon Elliott is the founder of Little Linksters, LLC, and its nonprofit arm, the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development. He is the winner of 25+ prestigious industry honors, including the 2017 PGA National Youth Player Development award. Brendon is a respected coach, businessman, writer, and golf industry expert.