Spring Back to Golf Without Straining Your Spine

An older man swings a club on the golf course.
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Golf is a great outdoor exercise option that gets you moving, breathing in the fresh air and soaking up some Vitamin D. As a non-contact sport, it's considered a fairly safe pastime for kids and adults alike. But if you've been off course recently, whether because of a previous injury or seasonal hiatus, it’s important to be careful about how you get back into the swing of things.

Golf Can Be Hard on the Spine

In contrast to the quiet beauty of the golf course, the complex and repetitive rotational movements required to strike the ball with a golf club at high velocity can have an impact on the muscles, ligaments and bones of your spine. And when you combine these intricate twisting maneuvers with an improper stance, lack of balance and other mechanical problems that are so common in inexperienced golfers, it's not hard to see why so many leave the course with a backache.

The most common type of injury seen in amateur golfers is a sudden strain of the back, shoulder or elbow. Failing to warm up properly, lacking adequate flexibility, practicing improper swing mechanics and having insufficient conditioning are all reasons for this. Focusing on these potential issues before you hit the course could save you from pain later on.

Consider a Coach

First, if you've had a serious back injury, you should definitely consult your physician about playing golf again. Don't risk aggravating your previous injury or injuring another part of your body by getting out there prematurely.

When you're truly ready, start with targeted stretching exercises that address hip mobility, trunk control, and core muscle strength. Build up your general fitness level through cardiovascular exercise, such as riding a stationary bike, swimming laps in the pool or walking briskly three to five times per week. Some targeted exercises that will get you started include abdominal bracing, the bridge exercise and hip crossover stretches.

When it comes to your swing mechanics, consider consulting with a coach. With professional guidance, you'll learn how to minimize the rotational stress on your lumbar spine during your backswing, ball contact, and follow-through. You’ll also learn how to maximize the efficiency and power of your stroke by maintaining a fluid sequence of movement, controlling your balance and knowing how and when to shift your weight. In the meantime, here are some basic tips to avoid injuring your back each time you play:

  • Always warm up with targeted stretches
  • Apply caution when lifting and carrying clubs
  • Improve your general fitness and endurance through cardiovascular exercise
  • Learn proper posture and body mechanics
  • Stay hydrated
  • Stay on tempo and avoid swinging too hard or too fast
  • Watch for ground hazards such as tree roots, and avoid making contact with them during your swing
  • Wear the right kind of shoes

Remember that all golfers should have a set stretching routine that they perform prior to each round to help loosen tight muscles. It’s also a good idea to warm-up by gently swinging the club and, when possible, taking some practice shots before your game, starting with your wedge and working your way up to the driver.

Avoid Injury

Of course, beyond back spasms, sprains and strains, which are acute or sudden injuries, a significant proportion of injuries in golf are tied to overuse. So ironically, those who play golf frequently, from amateurs to pros like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, the venerable Jack Nicklaus and even the chairman of Augusta National himself, Billy Payne, are equally subject to hurting their backs as the typical out-of-practice duffer.

These types of injuries, including herniated disks, vertebral stress fractures, spinal arthritis, spondylolysis and degenerative disk disease, are associated with the repeated stresses to which a golfer’s spine is subjected over time.

The good news is that many of the same precautions that apply to protecting your back from a strain or sprain can also help you avoid long-term injuries. That's because, while not all back injuries in golf are preventable, doing things like strengthening your core muscles, practicing proper swing mechanics and improving your general fitness level can significantly reduce the stresses placed on certain parts of your back over time — both on and off the course. Learn more about repetitive motion injuries and how AdventHealth can help by clicking here.

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