Over 26 million people play golf in the United States. That number is expected to grow as the baby boomers retire and look to the sport as a source of entertainment and physical activity. Unfortunately as golfers age, their spine becomes more susceptible to stress. It is not surprising, then, that low back pain is the most common injury among golfers, making up over one third of all injuries in the sport.
Most golfers note that their back pain develops over time rather than after a specific inciting event. Overuse is thought be a common issue with low back pain among golfers. Especially among amateur golfers, faulty swing mechanics cause many injuries as well, contributing not only to lumbar spine injuries, but others as well. The nature of the golf swing, with a combination of rotational, lateral bending, compression and sheer forces involved, can cause injuries to the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand and knee as well.
Can training programs help golfers, especially older, less experienced ones, avoid injuries? Meira and Brumitt reviewed studies in the scientific literature to better illustrate their relationships between physical issues and injuries in golf.
A short warm up before practice or play – even 10 minutes or less – might decrease the risk of injury. It also might improve performance, as one study showed that a warm-up series of windmills, trunk twists, air swings and other static stretches increases clubhead speed.
A golfer who lacks flexibility with internal rotation of his hips and lacks flexibility in his hip flexors has a higher risk of lower back injuries. Adding daily exercises to stretch the hip flexors and increase internal rotation of the hips can be beneficial. Adding stretches to improve shoulder and trunk flexibility can help improve the swing and decrease injury risk as well. Meira and Brumitt recommend holding each stretch for 30 seconds and perform the stretches daily. On days of matches, golfers can switch to dynamic stretches like walking knee to chest and trunk twists.
Since the golf swing involves most of the body’s major muscle groups, golfers should engage in regular strength training. Exercises should focus on the legs, back and upper body. Core stability exercises are key as well due to the demand on the glutes, abdominals and paraspinal muscles with the golf swing. Exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and muscles around the shoulder blade can help prevent shoulder injuries. If a golfer is unfamiliar with weight training, he might consider working with a physical therapist or strength and conditioning personal trainer familiar with the demands of golf to design a program specific for him.
Poor swing mechanics
Finally it might be out of the realm of a training program, but it’s worth mentioning faulty swing mechanics again. It can be a good idea to work with a teaching pro and correct any flaws in the swing motion. Not only can it help prevent injuries, but subtle changes might also improve performance.
Also listen to the following episode of The Dr. David Geier Show:
Episode 155: What can golfers do to treat and prevent low back pain?
Have injuries evaluated.
If pain does develop during or after golf, it can be a good idea to see a doctor and have the injury evaluated. Plus, this information about physical training programs for golfers should not be construed as medical advice but rather information about the components of training programs that might be helpful for decreasing the risk of golf injuries.
If you play golf, do you perform daily stretching or weight lifting exercises? Have you ever suffered a low back injury or other injury in golf? I’d love to hear your experience!
Finn C. Rehabilitation of low back pain in golfers: From Diagnosis to Return to Sport. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. July 2013. 5:313-319.
Meira EP, Brumitt J. Minimizing injuries and enhancing performance in golf through training programs. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. July 2010. 2:337-344.