Low Back Pain: a Golfer’s Biggest Handicap

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Low Back Pain: a Golfer’s Biggest Handicap

F lorida owns a reputation for great golf. Warm temperatures throughout the year and having the most courses than any other state gives us more reasons to play.

With over 90 golf courses in Naples, and nearly 50 golf courses in Fort Myers, the sport is one of the most popular in the area. But, as with any physical activity or sport, the game carries with it the hazard (pun unintended) of injury.

The golf swing is essentially a turning motion around a central column – that central column being your spine. That rotational force can contribute to one of the most common symptoms from injuries in golf, lower back pain. It is the most frequently occurring problem for any golfer. If professional golfers with their excellent fitness and swing mechanics can suffer from low back pain (think of Tiger Woods wincing and reaching for his back), then the recreational golfer is certainly not immune.

It is estimated that 25-30% of all golfers deal with low back pain. By being aware of the causes of golf injuries, and how to prevent and treat them, you can play your best game and arrive at the 18th hole without pain or discomfort.

Causes of low back pain among golfers:

First of all, regardless of whether they play golf or not, 80% of the population at one point in their life will suffer from back pain.

The injuries that stop one from playing golf don’t necessarily need to be due to golf!

They can be caused by everyday activities such as driving, DIY, gardening, working, and other sports. Basically, anything that will put too much strain on the joints, ligaments and muscles.

Here are some of the general causes that may be contributing to the lower back pain that arises during a round of golf:

  • Poor physical fitness level

    Lack of mobility in the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders of many golfers forces the lower back to carry excessive loads and become injured in the process.

  • Poor support from muscles and ligaments

    Poor support from either muscles or ligaments put more pressure on other structures around the joints. For example, if you have poor muscular support, you are more likely to injure a ligament, and if you have an unstable joint due to a damaged ligament, you are more likely to get a muscle injury.

  • Degenerative diseases

    This is one of the most common causes of back pain and also the most misunderstood. Simply put, this is the degeneration of your spine over time leading to decreased shock-absorbing capacity of the spinal discs, in turn leading to pain, and sometimes radiating weakness and numbness.

However, there are particular habits of golfer’s that may lead to low back pain as well:

  • Overuse Injuries

    Because golf is a non-contact sport, the most common type of injury occurs from repetitive trauma, otherwise knows as “overuse injuries”. The structures we most commonly injure are muscles, ligaments and joints, and when it comes to the spine, discs can of course also be involved.

  • Poor swing mechanics

    Your golf swing is a complex union of your stance, alignment, grip, timing and power. A properly executed swing involves the muscles of both your upper and lower body and every joint from the tips of your toes to the ends of your fingers – exposing each of these involved structures to injury.

3 Ways to prevent low back pain in golf:

  • 1. Improve your core stability and get in shape

    The core muscles can be thought of as a cylinder of muscles in the central portion of your body. These muscles not only protect your spine, they also help to transmit forces from the lower limbs to the upper limbs and vice versa.

    Poor core strength and stability make you more likely to have poor coordination and poor timing in your golf swing. This in turn will make you more prone to injury and you will lose distance and accuracy.

    Try these exercises* to improve your core stability.

  • 2. Don’t do exercises that involve twisting of your spine! Improve the flexibility of your hips and shoulders instead

    The structure of the spine allows natural rotational movement of the neck. The lumbar (lower) spine, however, is aligned for forward, backward and sideways bending, but not so much rotation to occur naturally.

    If you look at the golf swing in relation to the spine, the rotational force is the most prominent. Instead of trying to improve mobility of the spine, focus on improving the mobility of your hips and shoulders. Lack of movement in the hips and shoulders tend to force the spine to get more involved and make it more likely to get injured.

    Focus your stretches especially on the hip flexors, hamstrings, and external hip rotators. The most common tight muscle in a golfer is the psoas.

    Try these exercises* to improve the flexibility of your hips and shoulders.

  • 3. Adopt the right posture

    You may never hit it like a pro, but it’s tough to make a good swing from an un-athletic position. The difference between good and bad posture may be subtle, but adopting the correct posturewill put your body in a much better position to execute your golf swing with power and accuracy, while also giving you better mechanical advantage and reducing strain on parts of your body that are prone to injury.

    The posture you adopt will determine how well your spine will move and how well your muscles and ligaments will protect it. So, for example, if you have a forward slumped posture, you will restrict rotation to the mid back, reduce rotation of the neck and make your lower back more unstable, while also, very importantly, reducing shoulder movement.

    Practice your posture in front of a mirror – stand up tall, pull your shoulders back and bend at the hips (not the waist). Try these tips to improve your golf swing posture.

How to treat low back pain from Golf

A muscle strain or “pulled muscle” as well as an injured ligament will usually resolve itself in 2-4 weeks with plain old rest and recovery.

Typically, golf-related back pain injuries can be treated by the following methods:

  1. Rest for few days to allow for faster healing. Continuing to play golf through an episode of back pain may further stress inflamed muscles.

  2. Sleep for a minimum of eight hours every night. This is when the body repairs and rebuilds.

  3. Apply ice on the area of injury or strain to reduce swelling and inflammation.

  4. Massage. This is one of the best ways to reduce soreness and inflammation and to revitalize soft tissue. Schedule an appointment with our licensed massage therapist.

  5. Gently stretch and do low-impact aerobic exercises, such as walking, for 30 to 40 minutes every other day, for help with back pain.

After the low back pain has improved, slowly return to playing golf and incorporate the prevention tips (described in this article) to help avoid future occurrences.

For injuries with more serious pain, please seek medical attention immediately.

How Chiropractic can treat low back pain and back injury from Golf

The chiropractic profession is well known for its treatment of spinal conditions, of which low back pain is by far the most common. Dr. Kaster is knowledgeable of the stresses that golf places on the body. He understands the mechanics of the golf swing and how it may be a potential cause of back pain.

Chiropractic adjustments and soft tissue mobilization are proven to be effective treatments for low back pain and other golf-related injuries. Chiropractic usually involves treatment of common lower back pain conditions through manual therapy:

  • Spinal manipulation and manual manipulation

    This type of manual manipulation refers to a high-velocity, short lever arm thrust that is applied to abnormal vertebra with the goal of improving functionality, reducing nerve irritability and restoring range of motion in the back. It is also commonly known as “chiropractic adjustment”. There is firm literature support for chiropractic treatment of lower back pain. Many of the published guidelines recommend chiropractic manipulation to be included in the treatment plan early in the care of lower back pain.

  • Soft tissue mobilization

    Chiropractic mobilization refers to low velocity manipulation, movement and stretching of the muscles and joints, with the goal of increasing the range of motion within those areas.


Golf is a sport where flexibility is vastly more important than strength, and getting your fundamentals right is the best way to prevent low back pain.

If you suffer from low back pain, Dr. Kaster can help map out a treatment plan and get you back on the course. He’ll teach you golf-specific exercises and stretches to prevent and reduce pain and improve functionality. You’ll learn how to protect your low back utilizing golf-specific ergonomics.

Spend more time on the course and less time in pain! Tee off with the confidence that low back pain will not become your handicap!

Visit us! Make Your Appointment Today.

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*Notice: It is very important not to overdo these exercises. If your pain gets worse, you should stop, return to resting, and continue the static-back position exercise. It is also important to consult with your health care practitioner before using any of these exercises.

Dr. Kaster is a trusted chiropractic physician in the Fort Myers & Naples areas. He treats auto accident injuries, back pain, headaches, etc., with nutrition and gentle, effective chiropractic care. Our licensed massage therapists are the finest in the industry, and they’ll customize massage techniques specifically to your needs for greater healing, pain relief and relaxation.

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