Every spring, weekend golfers dust off their clubs and hit the links, eager to live out fantasies of playing like Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth. But if you’ve spent a long winter relaxing on the couch, your back may not be in golfing shape just yet.
Low, middle, and upper back pain are common symptoms of golf-related injuries. Golf is a game of muscle memory, and its repetitive motions can lead to inflammation, strains, and other injuries of the muscles and discs of the spine, throwing you off your game.
The pros who tee it up each spring at the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas and the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth know the benefits of proper form and physical preparation for hours of practice and tournament rounds. And they have personal trainers who help them with stretching and flexibility.
The rest of us can still proactively reduce our risk of back pain and serious injury. Before you try to pound a 300-yard drive, consider these five simple steps to preserve your back health and enjoy a summer of golf.
5 ways to prevent back pain while golfing
1. Remember you’re not Tiger in his prime
Whether you’re a recent retiree who suddenly has more time to play or a once-a-month golfer, keep in mind that your body probably isn’t as limber or amenable to change as it once was. Trying to relive your glory days is a surefire way to tee up a pulled muscle or herniated disc.
“Your buddies are already on the course, and you’re running late, so you don’t take time to stretch. It happens to even the best golfers sometimes, but it’s a big mistake! Your spine health is worth so much more than the few minutes it will take you to limber up.”
As you get older, you have to prep your body differently to play golf. Take Tiger Woods, for example. He turned pro at age 20 with a powerful swing and the physical ability to recover quickly.
Over the years, Woods had to adapt his swing, warm-ups, and approach to the game. After multiple back and knee surgeries, he knows he must play smart. That’s exactly what he did when he won The Masters in April 2019, earning his 15th major title in one of the most impressive comebacks in sports history. (Unfortunately, Woods sustained major leg injuries in a single-car crash in February 2021 and the future of his professional golf career is in jeopardy.)
2. Warm up before you tee it up
Your buddies are already on the course, and you’re running late, so you don’t take the time to stretch. It happens to even the best golfers sometimes, but it’s a big mistake! Your spine health is worth so much more than the few minutes it will take you to limber up.
In a best-case scenario, you’ll get to the course a little early and stretch before warming up and hitting balls on the practice range. That will give you the best chance to play well and avoid injuries.
Before you hit a ball, gently stretch your lower, middle, and upper back, as well as your shoulders and neck. Then take a few easy practice swings, focusing on your form and biomechanics. Slowly increase the range and speed of your practice swings until you get to a full extension.
3. Be prepared to alter your swing mechanics
As you get older, you’ll have to face your mortality in many ways. Golf is no exception. You might find season to season that you can’t swing as hard, and that’s OK. You’re probably not playing for a $1 million prize – take it easy, relax, and enjoy the social and exercise components of your sport.
You may also want to consider changing equipment to better suit your game. If you’re playing with clubs that you purchased 10 years ago when your swing speed was faster, it might be time to upgrade. Using those old clubs and swinging extra hard is a set up for back problems.
4. Stay fit and active between golf outings
Core strength is huge for spine health. The muscles around the abdomen and back help support the spine, and having a strong core reduces the risk of injury as you swing and bend. Pilates can be particularly effective for core strengthening at any age.
And moderation is key – consider participating in other activities along with golf to avoid repetitive motion injuries. Make time for other aerobic workouts, such as walking, running, and swimming.
5. See the doctor if your back hurts
This seems like common sense, but patients often hesitate to report back pain because they’re worried we’ll say, “No more golf.” But our spine surgeons and sports medicine team want patients to enjoy the sports they love and remain active, not sedentary.
As with most health conditions, early intervention can help patients manage back pain faster and reduce the risk of serious injury. Most golf-related back pain can be treated with medication, physical therapy, or other nonsurgical methods. However, severe injuries might require back surgery. Our spine and sports medicine doctors, nurses, and physical therapists take a preventative approach that helps patients recover and potentially avoid future back pain issues.
Whether you’ve played for years or this is your first season, remember to warm up, maintain good form, and listen to your body so you can enjoy every round of golf without an aching back.