Back pain is by far the most common complaint among golfers. That’s no surprise, considering the unusual stress on muscles and ligaments created by a golf swing: You bend over and your shoulders turn 90, while your pelvis moves only a little as you forcefully twist your spine to produce an explosive rotational downswing (powering the club head at speeds up to 100 mph, or more for pros)-and you may do this more than 200 times per golf day, for years.
Golf pros (think of Tiger Woods) are at special risk for back pain because their swings have gotten more powerful over the past two decades, according to a report in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine earlier this year. What’s more, swing technique has changed, so that during the downswing, greater compressive force is directed onto the spine, producing minor traumatic injuries that over time can result in significant damage to disks in the lower back.
Even if you’re an amateur golfer, if you play frequently and your back and abdominal muscles aren’t strong enough, you’re a candidate for low back pain. Obesity, smoking, and poor fitness make people particularly susceptible to back pain. To protect yourself:
- Warm up and stretch before playing.
- Strengthen your abdominal as well as back muscles.
- Watch your swing posture: Your back should be straight, but not rigid; bend at the hips and keep your knees slightly bent; swing with a fluid, relaxed motion.
- Whenever you bend over-to lift your bag out of your car trunk, put a tee in the ground, or retrieve a ball from a hole-save your back by bending at your knees and hips. Squat, if necessary.
- Make sure you shift your weight correctly during the swing so more power is generated by your hips and legs.
- Walk the course as much as possible. Sitting in a cart puts extra pressure on the back and lets your muscles cool down. But if you’re prone to back pain, don’t carry or pull your golf bag, even though that’s good exercise. When you do carry your bag, make sure the weight is evenly distributed on your back; switch shoulders occasionally.
- Alternate golf with other sports or workouts such as weight training or tai chi.