Golf without the Back Pain

Pro golfers make it look so easy and effortless.

So much so that many recreational golfers often hit the greens thinking they will swing just like the pros.

And while they may earn bragging rights, they may also walk away with something more than a birdie.

“Back injuries, such as lumbar strains or muscle irritations, are common among recreational golfers,” says Mark A. Freeborn, MD, a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon with EvergreenHealth.

“The pain can be due to overuse or overexertion,” he explains. “Sometimes, weekend warrior golfers come out swinging as hard as they can. If the body is not used to the movement or if too much force is exerted, it can place a lot of stress on the back.”

None of this is surprising because a golf swing involves the whole body, and the body twists in the shape of a C as golfers drive through to a full swing.

“It’s important to know your own limitations,” Dr. Freeborn says. “Proper training and technique are also important to avoiding injury.”


Back to the basics

That’s why Dr. Freeborn says that while it’s tempting to go straight from your car to the first tee, it’s probably the worst mistake you can make when it comes to your golf game.

“Just like any other sport, it’s critical to stretch and warm up before starting,” Dr. Freeborn advises. “Stretching will help reduce your risk of injury.”

Dr. Freeborn recommends lower back and hamstring stretching, along with trunk and spine rotations. 

He says it’s also helpful to do a slow warm-up for 5-10 minutes before play.

Off the course, Dr. Freeborn also suggests weight training. “Both men and women lose muscle mass and bone calcium as they age,” he explains. “Weight training helps build muscle and may even help you hit the ball farther.”


When to seek medical help

Like any other sport or exercise, you may still end up with some strain or soreness after a round of golf.

Perhaps it’s been awhile since you’ve golfed, or maybe you’re still perfecting your technique or you pulled a muscle.

All are pretty common situations so if you find yourself with some sort of back pain, Dr. Freeborn recommends applying ice or heat for a few days.

“Ice is recommended for an acute pain, while heat is generally used for spasms and sharp pains,” he explains.

That — along with the pain reliever recommended for you by your primary care physician — often relieves the pain and helps you feel back to normal within a short time.

If pain persists beyond a week, however, or worsens in nature, such as going from the back to down one or both of the legs, that’s when Dr. Freeborn recommends seeing a physician.

“In those cases, the pain could be due to a nerve being compressed or a muscle that is strained, both of which require medical attention,” Dr. Freeborn says.


Heart healthy golf

Golf may seem like a slow sport to watch, but if you ditch your golf cart and walk the course, it can get your heart beating fast.

Between walking and carrying golf clubs for three to five hours over an 18-hole course, golf is a real endurance activity.

“I always recommend walking whenever possible,” Dr. Freeborn says. “It’s good for your health — and for your game. When you walk, you get blood flowing to all your muscles, which loosens you up and can help with your performance.”

Even more, you can burn calories while you walk the course. The average person carrying clubs on the back or shoulder can burn up to 1,442 calories during an 18-hole game.


Good golf warm-up exercises

Below are a few exercises Dr. Freeborn recommends trying before heading out for a round of golf:

PRESS UPS:

  1. Lie on your stomach and put your hands flat on the floor under your shoulders, like you are going to start a push up.
  2. Press your shoulders up and let your hips and low back relax. (Your hips should remain in contact with the floor as you press up.)
  3. Hold the position for 1-2 seconds before returning to the starting position.
  4. Perform 10 repetitions.

LOWER BACK STRETCH:

  1. Lie down with your back flat to the floor.
  2. Bend both legs and place your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Extend both arms out to each side of your body.
  4. Slowly drop both knees to the floor to one side until you feel the stretch.
  5. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat to the other side.

HAMSTRING STRETCH:

  1. Lie on your back with legs bent.
  2. Hold one thigh behind knee.
  3. Slowly straighten knee until a stretch is felt in back of thigh.
  4. Hold 20 seconds and relax.
  5. Repeat 5 times on each side.

TRUNK ROTATION:

  1. Start on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. With your knees together, bring them to one side. (Your feet should stay on the floor.) Hold 3 to 5 seconds.
  3. Contract your abdominal muscles while moving your legs to the opposite side, again holding for 3 to 5 seconds.
  4. Repeat 5 to 10 times on each side.

BRIDGE:

  1. Start on your back with your arms by your side. Your knees should be bent, and your feet should be flat on the floor.
  2. Slowly raise your hips off the floor, contracting your glutes (your buttocks) and your hamstrings as you go.
  3. Hold 3 to 5 seconds.
  4. Repeat 10 times.


Image of Dr. Mark Freeborn, fellowship-trained physician surgeon specializing in minimally invasive spine surgery at EvergreenHealth Spine & Neurosurgical Care near Seattle in Kirkland, WA.

About Mark Freeborn, MD

Dr. Mark Freeborn is a fellowship-trained spine surgeon who practices at EvergreenHealth Spine and Neurosurgical Care. 

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