Back pain is a common complaint among golfers and non-golfers alike. For many, the cause is a strain or injury because of overuse, for others, back pain is a chronic issue.
The root cause of back pain, even that caused by a strain, is poor mobility. This is discussed in more detail in this post but in summary, poor body mechanics place the body in positions more suspectable to injury. Again, mobility is an issue not only for golfers but the dude lifting groceries out of the car or picking up their child.
So the exercises below will help anyone, not only rotational athletes such as golfers.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard about the back issues of Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy. We often believe that professional golfers have the world under their thumbs and have the resources to fix any lingering physical issue that they might possess.
This just isn’t the case.
Listening to a podcast the other day, Scott Stallings talked about his consistent back pain and his experience with his first TPI mobility screen. Like many of us amateur golfers who have undergone a mobility screen, they wonder how in the world we play golf, much less at the level that Scott plays.
Scott credits fixing his mobility limitations as the reason he no longer has back issues or pain after long practice sessions.
The exercises shown below are often used to fix common mobility limitations that can affect the back leading to lower back pain.
How to Relieve Lower Back Pain
Use the five exercises below as a starting point to relieve your lower back pain.
It’s a good idea to go through a mobility screen to evaluate what your specific mobility and stability limitations are but adding these five exercises to your golf conditioning program will in no way be waste of time for anyone regardless if they have back pain or not.
Let’s get going with the videos that will show you how to relieve lower back pain.
A classic yoga pose, the Cat-Cow will help to develop muscle and postural awareness throughout the body. The exercise brings the spine into correct alignment and will help prevent back pain when practiced regularly.
Often muscle awareness and activation will have surprising effects on your posture and golf performance.
Supine Pelvic Tilts
Similar to the Cat-Cow pose, Supine Pelvic Tilts is a muscle awareness and activation exercise. Unlike the Cat-Cow pose, Pelvic Tilts are more important to the golf swing. The pelvis alternates between anterior and posterior positions during the golf swing.
The movement may feel awkward at first, but once your brain learns to communicate with core muscles the exercise will feel more normal and your range of motion will increase with continued practice.
Once muscle awareness has taken effect you will naturally place your lower back into better postural positions reducing stress and strain that causes lower back pain.
Knee to Chest Exercise
Bringing your knee to your chest stretches your lower back, hamstring, and glutes. Increasing flexibility and range of motion in your joints will ease muscle tension or pain in these muscle groups.
It’s best to perform the knee to chest exercise near the end of your pre-warm up or after your workout once blood flow has warmed your muscles.
This is such a great video describing the Glute Bridge by the University of Bristol. They discuss the importance of tilting the top of your pelvis back into a posterior position before attempting to lift into the bridge. Watch Lynn’s lower stomach muscles tighten as she tilts her pelvis, this tilting should also activate the glutes.
Keeping your lower back flat prior to lifting is very important as it reduces the stress on the lower back and builds the support to lift your butt off the floor before the spine.
If you have trouble with this exercise, you can use your arms on the floor as support. The goal should be to get those hands onto your chest once you’ve mastered the bridge with support. Then move on to the more difficult bridge in the video below this one.
The Glute Bridge strengthens the lower abdominals and the glutes. Notice the lower spine is sandwiched between these muscles. When activated and strong the core and glutes protect the lower spine.
Glute Bridge on Stability Ball
The Glute Bridge improves stability in the sagittal plane (forward and backward). But as you can imagine, golf isn’t played only on this plane, you need to protect your spine in the frontal plane (left to right), and transverse (rotational) plane.
The stability ball will remove stability (should call it instability ball) in the frontal plane and you’ll fight not to rotate once you lift your glutes and lower back from the floor.
As with the Glute Bridge, you can start with your arms on the floor to add stability, followed by placing them on your chest, and lastly raise your hands and arms straight up over your chest.
In the video, the first two will show you the common mistakes, such as bent knees, pelvis in anterior tilt, and hands spread apart for more frontal plane stability. In the third try, even though I didn’t mention it, you’ll see me tight my core and tilt the top of my pelvis back, the glutes come off the floor first followed by the lower back and when I lower myself I reverse the pattern.
The Glute Bridge on a Stability Ball will quickly strengthen muscles responsible for protecting the lower back in all three planes of movement.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Tight hip flexors are also a source of lower back pain. In fact, it’s not very common to have both lower back pain and healthy, well-conditioned hip flexors.
Hip flexors are often an under trained muscle group. When the hip flexors are tight they pull on your lower back, arching it while standing and lying down. So, your back is always in an arched position, when you’re working, sitting, and while sleeping.
A good test to tell if you have tight hip flexors is to lie on the floor and see if you can slide your hand under your lower back. If you have loose, flexible hip flexors your lower back will lie flat on the floor. Conversely, tight hip flexors will arch your lower back up off the floor and will continuously strain your lower back.
Remember to posteriorly tilt your pelvis when in position, this will increase the stretch across the flexors.
How to Relieve Lower Back Pain – The Keys
Keep doing these exercises and you’ll notice that your non-chronic back pain has disappeared. It might take a while for complete relief, but you should quickly see some improvement. If you have chronic back pain, pain that is constant, please see a medical doctor to be evaluated.
Persistence will pay off.
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