Golf is widely regarded as a sport for all ages, and the average age of members at many private courses is a good indicator of how people are able to continue playing well into the twilight of their lives.
Unfortunately, it’s ultimately a sport that still places stress and pressure on the body, so injuries and issues can still keep people off the course with annoying regularity.
One of the most common injuries seen in golfers is back problems, which is something I have experienced for a number of years but, recently, have tamed with great success and am able to play pain free.
In short, golf should not damage your back provided you have an appropriate exercise regime that strengthens your lower back and core, and works to maintain general flexibility. Also, building a repeatable golf swing that focuses on correct set up and movements will minimise the stress placed on your back, avoiding injury.
I’ll explain in more detail later, but a dodgy back doesn’t need to be a death sentence for your game, so long as you do the right things to strengthen and stretch the muscles heavily involved in the golf swing.
Ultimately, to avoid back injuries when playing golf, you should focus on the following:
- Ensure you strengthen and stretch the muscles used heavily in the golf swing to support your body.
- Ensure you make sound movements in the golf swing and work to remove any bad habits that may stress your back inappropriately.
If you can do both of these things, you should have no problem playing golf long into your twilight years.
Keep reading, as in this article I’ll touch on some of the key questions relating to golf and back injuries, along with provide some actionable tips, including exercises, to protect your back from getting injured playing golf.
Table of contents
How do I protect my back when playing golf?
To protect your back when playing golf, it is important to set up correctly with a slight spine tilt away from your target. This will help to promote rotation, rather than sliding, which can be damaging to your lower back. In addition to a good set up, regular stretching and strengthening of both the back and core muscles will help your back withstand the rigors of regular golf.
One of the key reasons people experience back pain when playing golf is due to habitual flaws in their swing that place larger than necessary amounts of stress on their back and spine.
People that fall into the trap of sliding, rather than rotating, tend to bend and crunch the spine, rather than twist it, which can inflame the area and lead to discomfort.
People who stand too far away from the ball can also develop back soreness due to excessive bending and reaching for the ball, so a closer ball position that leads to a more upright stance will help to reduce pressure on the back and discs of the spine.
A shortened backswing can also reduce the amount of energy that is built up in the back as it coils and rotates deeply.
While you want to be careful of getting too short and negatively impacting your swing – a short backswing can cost you distance – if you do turn so deep that the club goes past parallel at the top, like John Daly, you are probably putting more pressure on your back than you need to still get adequate distance.
Possibly more important for reducing back pain in golf than the swing itself is the preparation of the body to withstand the rigours of golf.
Making sure you stretch or roll out the lower back is important to ensure you have the flexibility to twist and rotate dozens of times per round. A good anti-inflammatory gel can also be helpful to loosen up the area.
Finally, it’s crucial you don’t focus too much on flexibility and neglect muscle strength, which can be a vital protection against flare ups in back pain.
Some core stability exercise and lower back strengthening will have a big impact on reducing back issues on course.
Can you play golf with back pain?
Yes, you can play golf with lower back pain, but it is important to know your limits and stop your round when the pain starts to become problematic. By taking anti-inflammatories and stretching prior to a round, you should be able to play golf with minor back discomfort.
The major signs to look for here are whether you just feel stiff and sore or rather you actually have sharp pain through your back, hips and even legs.
If you are a bit rigid then it might just take a few swings and holes for your back and body to warm up, and this is perfectly normal, especially if it is a cold morning or you are an older player.
If you feel actual pain that starts to get worse, rather than better, as your round progresses, then you probably shouldn’t proceed to push through in this scenario.
What is the most common golf injury?
Lower back pain is by far the most common golfing injury, given the amount of stress placed on the spine and surrounding muscles through the twisting, bending motions necessary in the golf swing. While back pain can be frustrating to deal with, it can still be safe to play golf with some back pain so long as it is appropriately managed.
Anti-inflammatory medications and gels can be useful for treating back pain and helping you to get through your round.
Similarly, preventative measures such as trigger point rolling with a pressure ball or a good solid stretching and warm up routine can help limit the damage you could do to your back during a round.
Can golf cause a herniated disc?
Golf can be a factor in the development and exacerbation of a herniated disc, due to the twisting motion of the golf swing and pressure it places on the spine. Luckily, some simple treatments such as anti-inflammatories and therapy can reduce its impact and provide solutions that do not require surgery.
One of the main reasons golf can lead to problems like a herniated disc is the pure lack of warming up that we do prior to a round.
Yes, golf is a lower intensity sport, but when you compare the amount of preparation a player will do prior to a football or basketball game, we are foolish for mindlessly wandering from car to first tee without as little as a practice swing.
Ideally, you should be warming up well before your round begins to reduce the chances of back injury.
The first twenty swings you make should be practice swings, without a ball, so that you don’t tense up and maintain a fluid swing – something many of us find nearly impossible as soon as that ball is put down at our feet.
The best tool to practice with is the SKLZ Golf Swing trainer warm up stick, which has a weighted ball on the end of an extremely bendy shaft.
Not only does this help you improve your tempo and get the feeling of lag, but it is a low impact way to wake your back up and prepare your muscles for the round to come.
The Lag Shot Swing Trainer is another great training aid that can have a similar effect in warm up prior to a round.
Do any pro golfers have back problems?
Many professional golfers including Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau and even Jack Nicklaus have all had stints on the sidelines due to back problems during their careers. The excessive force involved in the golf swing at the highest level can lead to inflammation and tightness in the back muscles, leading to pain and soreness.
Tiger is well known for his back problems, sidelining him for a number of months throughout his career and even requiring fusion surgery.
DeChambeau – in his quest for huge distance off the tee – has developed back and wrist issues at various times over the past few years, a price perhaps worth paying given his US Open win.
Essentially, the faster you swing and harder you try and hit the ball, the more energy there is to be transferred through your spine and lower back.
Given that you aren’t a pro golfer and don’t need to be overpowering 450-yard Par 4s on a regular basis, you can probably take the simple step of dialing your driver swing down to 70% to reduce the impact on your back.
Many players have great success with hybrids and 5-woods off the tee, so a switch to a less explosive option might even be useful in avoiding the same fate as the three pros mentioned above.
Best lower back pain exercises for golf
The most impactful lower back exercises for golf include core strengthening exercises such as planks and lower back exercises like supermans. Generally speaking, carrying less weight is also an important preventative measure to help reduce the strain on your core muscles created by an excess tummy flap, allowing them to focus more on supporting the lower back and spine.
Simple to do but extremely effective, a routine of regular planks will do wonders for strengthening your lower abdominal muscles, which are the muscles most supportive in protecting the lower back.
Place your forearms on the ground in front of you and extend your body straight out to your toes and hold, focusing on keeping the abdominals tight and avoiding your hips lifting too high or dropping too low.
Start out with a few 30 second sets, then work your way up to a minute or more each time.
The Supermans exercise will help strengthen the lower back muscles and help support the spine in your golf swing.
Lying flat on your stomach, stretch your arms and legs away from your torso.
Lift your arms and shoulders up as high as you can, doing the same with your legs. Hold for 10 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then repeat for a one minute round.
A few sets of these each day will greatly improve your back stability.
The Pigeon Pose hip stretch will improve your flexibility and reduce the amount of movement flowing through your lower back as a result of stiffness and tightness.
Starting on all fours, take your left leg and cross it underneath your body so that the lower leg lies across the floor.
Extend your right leg out behind your body, then bring your torso and upper body down to the ground, reaching your arms out in front of you along the ground.
Hold for 30 seconds then repeat for the other side.
Doing this a few times a day will increase the range of motion through your hips, allowing them to work alongside the back in facilitating rotation and reducing stress through the spine.
Lower back pain is one of the most common and frustrating injuries in golf, but luckily it is manageable and can be endured so long as it is kept within a certain threshold.
By warming up correctly, utilising anti-inflammatories and developing a strengthening and warm up routine, you’ll minimise the impact back pain has on your game and stay out on course for longer.
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals and everything in this article is based on our own personal experiences. We advise you to seek medical advice before playing golf with back pain.