Lower back pain is the biggest injury complaint among golfers.
It affects all ranks of golfers, from amateur to professional, young and old, and beginners to seasoned golfers.
The effects can cause a slight tinge in the back to debilitating pain and occur once in a great while or be chronic.
At some point in everyone’s golfing career, they’ll experience lower back pain in one form or another. The best way to reduce the chance of sustaining a lower back injury is to know the causes of lower back pain and prepare your body to prevent an occurrence.
Pain during a round of golf is a warning sign that should be heeded before it turns into a chronic problem.
What are the Causes of Lower Back Pain?
This article will discuss the causes of lower back pain that pertain to golfing and correctable causes. Degenerative disc disease, genetic disposition, arthritis other than degenerative or inflammatory arthritis, and traumatic back injuries will not be discussed. If you have chronic or severe lower back pain, you should see a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment.
Five conditions cause the majority of lower back pain issues in golfers.
Those causes are listed below from those that may need special treatment to those which are easier to prevent.
- Degenerative or inflammatory arthritis
- Bone fractures
- Disc injuries
- Muscle strains
- Mobility & motor control limitations
Each will be discussed below with preventative actions.
It should be no surprise that arthritis can cause lower back pain. It’s beyond the scope of this article to consider the 100 or so types of arthritis and treatment of this nasty disease. I’m not qualified to give that advice. I suggest you see a medical professional or if you’re curious to read more visit the Arthritis Foundation for more information.
However, some forms of arthritis are caused by actions or lack of actions we take in our everyday life.
Such as overuse, abuse, or the opposite, a lack of use.
These actions should be self-explanatory. If your body isn’t prepared to resist the force you apply to it there can be consequences. Having mobility limitations in the joints above or below the lower back could stress the lumbar spine to form bony arthritic growths that affect the nerves.
Arthritis causes sharp pains, but constant irritation can cause inflammation that leads to constant lower back pain. A change in diet can reduce the effects of arthritis but once the growths occur they’re yours for life. Arthritis is a good reason to retain mobility and exercise responsibly.
The golf swing is violent.
If you’re a weekend golfer or someone that doesn’t hit the range several days a week, stopping your body from rotating at speeds of 80 to 100 mph isn’t something it regularly does.
Stress fractures of the lumbar spine are common in rotational athletes. The speed of rotation causes adjacent vertebrae to hit each other at their end of the swing because the muscles can’t stop the rotation in a normal spacing. The fractures don’t typically need medical care but are the causes of lower back pain.
Core strength and increased mobility of the T-spine and hips will significantly reduce the probability of fractures occurring in the lumbar spine vertebrae.
Discs are located between the vertebrae for the purpose of absorbing compressive forces and to protect nerves within the spinal column.
Like all things on our bodies, discs have a tendency to wear out as we age, making them more suspectable not only traumatic injury as during a golf swing or lifting something heavy, but consistent forces such as sitting at angles or slouching for extended periods of time.
It’s not intuitive, but staying in motion and changing positions (not repetitive movement) helps lubricate and keep spinal discs healthy, thus lowering the chance of injuring a disc.
Although lifting something heavy or over exerting yourself during a golf swing can cause a disc to bulge, the real reason for injury is prior misuse or inactivity. Disc injury causes a widespread pain that can radiate downward or upward from the lower back.
See a medical professional if you think you have a bulging disc. Random exercise can more likely increase the injury instead of helping it, have your medical doctor or physical therapist recommend any exercise, not a fitness professional.
If you have sharp pains, or the pain is constant, please seek out professional medical help. Don’t rely on pain killers or grit through the pain. You could injury yourself more, or sideline you for weeks during the golf season.
As mentioned before, the golf swing is a violent motion, especially when we want some extra yards on a drive, or we get too aggressive on an iron shot.
It goes without saying that muscle strains are common in golfers. The lower back is always a target due to rotational forces.
Since golf is not played on a level piece of land, and often the course is rough and graded irregular, you can strain a muscle without even swinging. Stepping into a hole or walking on slopes can cause you to jar your back or pull a muscle. Some causes of lower back pain, such as these, can’t be helped.
However, often the lower back is injured when you stumble or trip, and you try to quickly catch your balance. Because the lower body is going one way and the upper body tries to counteract the imbalance it can lead to a strained lower back.
But keeping the body flexible and as athletic as possible is going to help reduce the chance of muscle strains. The ability to keep your balance or absorb a shock when you step in a hole will protect your back. Remember, flexibility is different than mobility, which is discussed below.
Although an exercise program can’t protect you from all muscle strains, it will decrease the chance of straining or pulling a muscle during your swing or while you’re walking around on the course.
Mobility & Motor Control Limitations
Often the causes of lower back pain have nothing to do with the lower back. The lower back hurts because it is compensating for the lack of movement in the ankles, hips, T-spine, or shoulders.
The body will try to do what the brain tells it to do. If the brain wants a long drive and the body can’t get clubhead speed because the hips or T-spine aren’t rotating far enough, well the lower back will make up the difference. The lumbar spine isn’t designed to rotate as much as the joints above and below it. So when it does more than it’s fair share of rotation, pain or discomfort is often the result.
Swing characteristics can also strain the back due to lack of mobility or improper swing technique.
Motor control limitations occur when the brain doesn’t have control of muscle movements (can’t activate them) or alters the movement.
These altered joint mechanics (or dysfunctions) can begin as a protective mechanism for the body but can lead to chronic lower back pain over time. This is how most chronic lower back problems start.
When you train a dysfunction, the only thing that gets better is the dysfunction, which leads to pain.
These mobility and motor control limitations are the easiest cause of lower back pain to identify and fix because we can run through a mobility screen to see our limitations before they become a problem.
Where to Start
To correct lower back pain or discomfort, you need to start with a mobility and stability screen.
Because most causes of lower back pain start with poor joint mobility. During the screen, you’ll find out what is moving correctly and what isn’t. If during the screen you have pain from any of the other causes you should stop and see a medical doctor or physical therapist.
The protocol during a screen is that pain stops the screen, and before any exercise, clearance from a medical professional is required.
Pain during a round of golf or during a mobility screen is a warning sign.
Heed the warning.
Determine the cause and set on a path to correct the issue before it turns into a chronic problem.
Get assessed with a mobility screen as soon as possible and have a corrective mobility program designed to correct your limitations. It’s best to be evaluated by a TPI Fitness Professional as they’re trained in the nuances of the screens.
But if you can’t find or afford a fitness professional a self-performed screen is better than none.
You’d be surprised how mobility limitations are holding your golf game back.
To see exercises that will relieve lower back pain visit my post titled How to Relieve Lower Back Pain with 5 Simple Exercises.
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