Top 3 Tips for Preventing Low Back Pain on the Golf Course

It’s February, spring is right around the corner (or so Punxsutawney Phil says), and it’ll soon be time to hit the golf course. It’s tempting to just go straight to the driving range or first tee, because that’s the part of any sport that you love –– the playing part. Instead, consider first taking care of your body to set yourself up for a successful season. A body in pain can never perform at an optimal level, so what can you do to keep yourself injury-free this season?

One of the most common conditions among golfers is low back pain. The golf swing involves greater rotation of the spine and more explosive power than most other movements. This kind of movement inherently taxes your spine. But your body is also strong, resilient, and the movement is by no means harmful if you’re prepared for it. Here are my top three tips for preventing low back pain on the course this season:

1. Make sure you’re warming up properly

No amount of stretching, strengthening or training during the off season or on off days can prepare your body to go straight from stepping out of your car to the first tee. One of the best ways to warm up for any given sport is to mimic the movements required in that sport, at progressively greater ranges of motion and speed.

For the golf swing, you need rotation through your upper back, lower back, and hips; transition from an anterior tilt to a posterior tilt at your pelvis; hinging through your hips; mobility through your shoulders; and stability through your legs. By picking exercises that enhance these movements, you prepare your body for what it is about to do on the course. Studies have also shown that it is better to complete a dynamic warm up –– moving through space, rather than holding stretches for a prolonged period of time –– for performance in an explosive and powerful sport such as golf. For best outcomes, warm up exercises should have short hold times and encourage fluid movement, rather than static stretches. Save that “ahhh” moment, that we all tend to like during stretches, for after the 18th hole!

2. Train your low back to be both mobile and stabile

Your entire body is a balance of mobility and stability, or flexibility and strength, in order to get you through life. Some of us love to stretch and channel our inner gumby, while others like to move heavy weight. But in reality you need a balance of both flexibility and strength to prevent injury.

In the case of your low back, you need mobility in order to transition your pelvis from an anterior tilt in your stance and backswing to a posterior tilt when you make contact with the ball. This transition in the position of your pelvis is part of what transfers power in the moment of contact. If your spine and pelvis move as a unit, you may not have the mobility or flexibility necessary to create this transition. This can lead to compensations in your swing and eventually may result in pain.

That being said, you also need to be able to control this movement with a strong core. In this case, a strong core doesn’t necessarily mean being able to do as many sit ups as possible. You need to train your core to be strong in the rotational pattern needed in your swing. Movements that work your core in diagonal patterns and require multidirectional control will do the trick. This mobility and stability balance will not only prevent injury of your low back, but also help you hit the ball further. And who doesn’t want that?

3. Address what’s above and below

Last but not least, whenever I am working with clients, I make sure to look at what is going on in the body regions above and below the area where we are trying to prevent or rehabilitate injury.  In the case of the low back, I am talking about the upper back and hips. As we’ve discussed above, the golf swing requires significant rotation –– and not all of this should be coming from your low back! The more rotation you can get from your upper back and hips, the less your low back will be asked to do. Many of us are stiff in our upper backs and hips because so much of our life takes place sitting –– in cars, at a desk, on the couch watching our favorite Netflix show –– not to mention rounding over and looking down at our cell phones, the general tension of sitting in traffic, or craning toward your screen to see the faces in your Zoom call. It is important to work extra hard to improve the mobility of your upper back and hips to take the work away from your low back.

Bacurau RF, Monteiro GA, Ugrinowitsch C, Tricoli V, Cabral LF, Aoki MS. Acute effect of a ballistic and a static stretching exercise bout on flexibility and maximal strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):304-8.

Lindsay DM, Vandervoort AA. Golf-related low back pain: a review of causative factors and prevention strategies. Asian J Sports Med. 2014;5(4):e24289

Samson M, Button DC, Chaouachi A, Behm DG. Effects of dynamic and static stretching within general and activity specific warm-up protocols. J Sports Sci Med. 2012;11(2):279-285. Published 2012 Jun 1.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

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Dr. Elizabeth Dalrymple

Lead Physical Therapist | Doctor of Physical Therapy
Elizabeth Dalrymple is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) who specializes in overhead and rotational sports like softball, baseball, golf, volleyball, swimming, tennis and gymnastics. She works both at Activcore in Atlanta, GA (near Emory University) and at Activcore in Cumming, GA (inside Studio Lotus Pilates). As a former varsity softball player and Ivy League Pitcher of the Year award winner at Cornell University, Elizabeth has a special interest in treating both overhead and rotational athletes.
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