Is Golf Bad For Your Back?
Quick answer - No. The golf swing is a rotational movement that produces significant load to multiple areas of the body. An area that takes the most pressure during the swing is the lower back. In fact, during the downswing pressures of up to 8 times your bodyweight can be placed on the area. It’s not surprising that over 25% of all golf related injuries are located in the lower back. But is the golf swing itself bad for your back?
Well, it has been shown that technique plays a large role. When performed correctly, the golf swing seems to provide very little harm to the back. Unfortunately, out of the 36 million golfers in the world, not many of us can say we have a perfect swing. As swing faults occur, the likelihood of pain and injury increases. For example, excessive side bend in the golf swing is a large contributing factor to lower back pain. Tilt combined with rotation can produce excessive shear and compression resulting in pain and injury over time. This pain will most likely be experienced in the trail side of the lower back. Excessive separation between the hips and the shoulders can also be a factor. At the top of the backswing there is significantly greater shoulder rotation than hip rotation providing strain to the trunk. This separation is increased further as the downswing is initiated by the hips and lower body. Although this disassociation or ‘X-factor’ is a fantastic generator of power, the demands it places on the trunk system is colossal. Without relative strength the loads induced over time may result in lower back issues. In contrast, any pain experienced from golf, might not actually be caused by it. A study on golfers with lower back pain reported that the players who experienced the pain did not place the cause of the pain with golf. It seems however that golf may have just been the activity that identified the issues they already had. Whether this is poor mobility, a previous injury or lack of strength in key areas, the golf swing could be simply identifying areas of weakness. My view is it is likely a combination of both. Swinging a golf club with speed is a fast way to realise you have a pre existing issue. But swinging the golf club with poor technique for many years is almost certain to cause you some issues. It’s quite clear that the technique used is a large determining factor on whether damage will be caused. Any injuries to the back are more likely cumulative than traumatic. I feel it would be incorrect to say that ‘golf’ is bad for your back and much more accurate to say that a bad golf swing is bad for your back. There is a huge difference there.
Injuries to the back experienced through golf can also originate elsewhere. We are doing damage to our backs all day when we sit down for 14-15 hours. It would be naive to place all of our blame on our game of golf. If you are a golfer that is experiencing lower back pain, there are some considerations that can be made. Adopting a more ‘classical’ golf swing could be an option to reduce the spinal load. Releasing your left heel off the ground to aid pelvic rotation on the backswing is a great way to reduce the separation between upper and lower segments. This added pelvic turn will reduce lower back loading and may allow for more longevity in the game. Reducing the amount of spinal flexion at setup can also allow for less spinal bend throughout the swing, again providing a possibility for less lower back reaction. I would also recommend increasing your ability to withstand the demands of the swing. Improving your mobility, strength, balance and coordination will provide protection against any swing issues you might possess. It could even help you build a better swing.
In summary, golf is not bad for your back but there are serious considerations to be made to protect yourself. A poor swing will slowly eat away at you and if you are not conditioned to withstand the pressures, cumulative load will start to show its face. On a positive note, a well-drilled, safe swing, performed by a conditioned golfer, can be enjoyed pain free for decades.
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