Back pain can put a kink in not only your back but also your golf game. The twisting, bending, and stretching that comes with 18 holes on a sunny day can be seriously impeded by back pain conditions. If you think that back pain has stopped your golf game before you tee off, get ready for a mulligan with these simple ways to treat your pain.
Lower back pain is the most common source of pain among golfers, with just over 28% reporting lower back pain after a round. Even professionals experience pain at times, with an estimated 23% of the pros “playing through the pain.” The best treatment for back pain is a pound of prevention.
Start at the beginning
Just as you wouldn’t hop on the 9th green to tee off, your golf game should begin at the first hole with stretching. Common causes of back pain are injury or strain due to misuse or overuse after a long period of inactivity. Warming up the body and twisting the spine gently before that first swing can go a long way to protect your back.
- Stretch the low back by bringing one knee to the chest. Give it a squeeze, then lower it. Repeat on the other side, stretching five times on each side.
- Raise your arms straight above your head. Interlace your fingers, then turn your palms up to the sky. Inhale, then on an exhale, stretch to one side. Keep both feet firmly on the ground, and keep both sides of your body long. Hold for a couple breaths, inhale to the center, then exhale to the other side. Stretch like this twice on both sides.
- Use your golf club for a gentle twist. Place the club across your shoulders and drape your hands over the club. Inhale, then on an exhale, twist to the left. Use your core muscles to twist, not your shoulders. The golf club is there to keep your shoulders aligned. Hold for several breaths, then twist to the other side. Repeat twice on both sides.
- Bend over to touch your toes. Bend your knees as much as you have to in order to touch your toes. Some low back pain is exacerbated by this move, so make sure to clear this with your doctor first. The goal is to stretch the hamstrings, so if you cannot bend over, or if your doctor advises against folding over, bring your leg up to a chair or a step and bend that way. Hold for several breaths.
- Take small practice swings. Sometimes it helps to hit a bucket of balls at the driving range before getting into the game. This way you don’t feel the need to crush the very first ball of the day. Think of warming up and accuracy before distance at the driving range, at least as you warm up.
Many golfers experience low back pain due to improper form. Even Rory McIlroy takes golf lessons, tweaking his form and swing not only for the most power and accuracy but also for proper form for better performance. A golf pro can evaluate your form and give you tips, but there are videos and informational articles that can help you protect your back, too. One of the biggest mistakes is in the weight transfer between the backswing, downswing, impact, and finish. Using the powerful muscles of the glutes and quadriceps and keeping knees slightly bent can help.
It is also important to listen to your body. You may be part of a golf foursome that bets on every swing or plays for a round of beers afterwards, but winning those bets will not feel as sweet if you cannot get out of bed the next morning. If you feel sharp pain as you swing or have difficulty standing up after you hunch over for a putt, these are warning signs that you should not ignore. If you cannot hold your competitive nature back, try “clubbing up.” Use a club that is one or two higher than you would on a day where you don’t feel 100% to gain more power in your drive. This is not a solution to the problem but can help you work a little less for the same result.
After the golf game
You stretched, improved your swing, and backed off a little to protect your back. Take time after the game to use some recovery techniques to reduce inflammation and to help your body heal.
- Massage: Few things feel better than a massage after a long game of golf. It relaxes and soothes overworked muscles. Add transdermal magnesium to the massage to help further relax muscles.
- Hydrate and eat well: Drink plenty of water to help the body flush out toxins. A post-game banana helps lactic acid disperse, so a smoothie that incorporates that (plus calcium, magnesium, and protein) would be a great way to end the game. Anti-inflammatory foods in general can go a long way towards preventing and healing back pain.
- Go hot and cold: A combination of heat and cold can help prevent inflammation and reduce soreness. Try heating pads and ice packs, or take a sauna or a cold shower at the clubhouse right after the game.
- Rest and exercise: Sleep allows the body to heal, so try to get a full night’s sleep after a round of golf. Cross-training (e.g., walking, swimming, or yoga) helps to strengthen the muscles and prevent repetitive motion injuries, so take the time to add a different type of exercise the next day.
Treatment for pain
If, despite your good form, dietary changes and proper recovery, you still find yourself dealing with back pain, there are treatments that can help. Talk to your doctor about treatments options such as:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen
- Complementary medicine like acupuncture
- Chiropractic care
- Back stretchers
- Diagnostic injections
- If warranted, more intensive treatments such as laminectomy, discectomy, and spinal fusion
Back pain does not have to keep you off the golf course. Check out the golfer’s guide to low back pain for more tips on keeping your back healthy and strong.
Image by Wojciech Kulicki via Flickr