Back Health for the Back Nine

Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author

Back pain is a common complaint for golfers, even at the pro level. Experts say that making the same motion repeatedly, along with poor technique and/or lack of strength, are the main culprits. A sedentary lifestyle with hours spent sitting at a desk or in a car can also increase the risk of back pain.

Besides adding strength training to your routine, cardio fitness (such as swimming/cycling/running) and flexibility are essential for golfers to achieve a healthy back and overall fitness.

Titleist Performance Institute (www.mytpi.com) golf fitness instructor Kathryn McKenzie suggests the following to alleviate or avoid back pain:

Strengthen your core. Include exercises that target all of the abdominal, low back and gluteus muscles.

Warm up. The golf swing is an explosive movement that can put extra stress on joints and muscles if they are not ready for action. Do some dynamic stretching and take some easy swings to help loosen up before you practice or play.

Take lessons.Poor posture at address and faulty swing mechanics can be killer for your back.

Stretch. Having enough muscle flexibility and joint mobility to properly execute the golf swing is essential.

Get fitted for proper equipment. Clubs that are made for your body and your swing will enable you to play without making biomechanical adjustments to compensate for equipment that is not right for you.

Ramsay McMaster, a world authority on golf-specific physiotherapy,  stresses the importance of ‘sequencing’ your swing. If your upper body, trunk and lower legs aren’t working in sequence (rotating in the right places as you swing), back damage/pain can follow.

McMaster offers the following questionnaire to figure out if you’re pre-disposed to back injury:

  1. Have you had a golf screening for your back?
  2. Do you do golf posture exercises and stretches to break up prolonged sitting at your computer or while driving?
  3. Do you do a golf specific warm-up before you play?
  4. Does your golf warm-up sequence and time your body for golf?
  5. Have your clubs been checked and fitted to your body?
  6. Do you understand how to practice the same way as a Tour Pro would: stretching after putting; short game before long game; dry drills before hitting full shots?
  7. Do you know the reasons why practicing your putting and then hitting full drives can damage your back?
  8. Have you had a golf lesson which concentrates on correct sequencing to reduce the stress on your spine?
  9. Do you know how to safely carry your golf clubs and push or pull your cart?

Back Handicap

For every “No” you answered, score 4 points.

36-28  Beware! Bad back is imminent.
28-20  Your back is under pressure.
20-8  Ensure you have a back program to prevent progression to the next handicap.

If you’ve answered no to any of these, consider seeing a golf pro for lessons, drills, equipment evaluations and warm-up suggestions. If you’re suffering from severe or prolonged back pain, see a health care professional. Use heat, ice and anti-inflammatories when needed to manage mild pain.

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