Part Three: Lower Back
Golfers have been known to blame their mattress, car seat, stress at the office, caddy, and even their mother-in-law – never golf – as the source of their back pain. But deny it all they want, lower back aches and pains are a common complaint in golf.
There are many opportunities to hurt your back – while swinging the club, hunching forward to putt, and bending down to pick up or put down the ball. Repeat these movements many times in a game, multiply by several days in a week, add weak trunk muscles, mediocre flexibility, and aging vertebrae and disks and you have a recipe for back pain.
It doesn’t help that the golf swing places a higher compressive load on the lower back (eight times body weight) than sports like running (three times) or rowing (seven times).
The disks that act as shock absorbers between the vertebra can get compressed by about nine millimeters after nine holes with most of the compression happening during the first three holes.
The golf swing is a complicated athletic move. Here are some bad body alignment techniques – pushing the hips backwards then forwards instead of rotating the hips, bending the spine during the swing, turning the shoulders much wider than the hips, and leaning over to avoid the arms colliding with a big tummy.
Amateur golfers are usually injured by poor swing mechanics while pros (who have developed a much more efficient swing) are usually hurt by overuse.
The first symptom of lower back problems is usually muscular pain. If ignored, the next symptom is pain from inflammation of the ligaments or disks of the spine or perhaps a pulled muscle. At this point, the golfer usually goes to see his doctor.
In the “classic” golf swing, the hips and shoulders turn together to produce a swing that is graceful and relatively gentle on the lower back. Unfortunately, this type of swing does not deliver as much “oomph” or distance. Enter the “modern” swing, which resembles an inverted-C in the follow-through. This produces more torque and more distance but a greater chance of injury.
When I tried to learn how to play golf more than twenty years ago, my golf pro told me, “Ma’am, whatever you do, don’t copy the swing of your husband.” My better half has an unorthodox swing because a one-legged player taught him how to play. This is just as well since he has to compensate for an old knee injury from soccer so it’s as if he plays with one real leg and one prosthetic leg. His swing may be unconventional but he has not had lower back problems from golf in the twenty-five years that he has been playing.
Modify your swing to fit your anatomical peculiarities. You may not be able to get the ball as far (anyway, distance isn’t everything) but you will greatly reduce the risk to your back.
Top golf fitness instructor Sean Cochran (www.bioforcegolf.com) gives three steps to reduce the risk of lower back injury. In his words:
Number one; develop efficient golf swing mechanics. This can be done through proper instruction, practice, and time.
Number two; implement a golf fitness program into your exercise routine. This type of program will strengthen your lower back in relation to the golf swing.
Number three; monitor the number of swings you make with the club in relation to points one and two.
Cochran goes on to explain: “A lower back injury can incur if the workloads for any golfer become too high. Workloads are the number of swings you take within a certain time frame.
“For example, if you were to go to the range and execute 1,000 swings of the golf club in a 3-hour time frame, the likelihood of a lower back injury is very high because the workloads are too high within the give time frame for any golfer.
“If you have poor golf swing mechanics and a weak lower back, your workloads should be very low. If you have moderately efficient golf swing mechanics and a fairly strong lower back, the workloads can be higher.”
Golf Injury Review, Sports Injury Bulletin
Harvard Men’s Health Watch
Dr Tan Jee Lim, Changi General Hospital, Singapore
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