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Is Your Back Pain Driving a Wedge Between You and the Game?

Published September 1, 2017
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Scott Rosner, DC, MS, CCSP

An estimated one-third of all golfers have dealt with lower back pain.

Jeffrey Bernstein sure does. As an upstate New York native and recent Orlando, Florida, resident, Bernstein spends his days fighting for his clients in and out of court as a health care attorney for over four decades. While battling the judges and other lawyers, he also defends himself – doing the best he can with what he has while trying to live as pain-free as possible. A football accident injured his spine leaving him with two herniated discs which led to multiple severe spinal surgeries. His favorite thing to do is play golf but upon his diagnosis, he can't par-tee anymore.

"All of the possible causes of a herniated disc — aging, trauma, stress, poor diet, overweight, tobacco use and other genetics — are pretty much me. I’m guilty of all of them so to point the exact reason may be easier said than done," he recalled.

Low back pain is said to stem from poor swing mechanics causing the player to offset their stroke, further damaging the follow through and overall play.

"My golf game heightened all of it because of my bad posture and playing when I shouldn’t. Like I said, I love golf and play as much as I possibly can, but having a bad neck and back, I don't get to play as much as I'd like to these days," said Bernstein.

If you are like Bernstein, may be you have physical limitations that can further hinder your game or simply cause you to not follow through and swing correctly. If that's you, keep reading.

How Your Pain Effects Your Game

Limited Shoulder Flexibility. This may cause a flattening of the swing, can reduce your stamina and even your consistency.

Lacking Hip Range of Motion. As a leading cause of lower back pain, an insufficient hip range of motion in golf can hurt your ability to swing properly.

Weak Balance on Lead Leg. Your lead leg is crucial. If you have poor balance on that leading leg, it actually triples the likelihood of forward hip motion, creating improper posture towards the target, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Failure to Perform a Deep Squat. If you do not perform a deep squat, it may cause your hips to fall toward the ball when downswing. It can also limit your back and pelvis rotation contributing to a diminished performance.

How to Stand

You want to stand in a neutral position. The Mayo Clinic says that major deviation from the neutral position is considered a loss of posture that can decrease your ability and increase the chance of further injury.

Avoid the S-Posture. S-Posture is a swing characteristic that adds an excess arch to the lower back while in the set-up position. This makes it very hard to twist and turn, which is the core of golf. Golf is a rotational activity. So it's important that your spine and hips are able to twist and turn with you. S-posture is the number cause of lower back pain in golf players.

Avoid the C-Posture. C-Posture transpires when the shoulders fall forward. It normally takes place if a golfer has limited hip movement as well as tightened chest muscles. This postural position negatively affects the backswing and follow through.

The Mayo Clinic also says that biomechanical swing analysis identifies the imperfections that can limit the length, precision, or even a golf career making how to swing just as important to how to stand.

How to Swing

Early Extension. This is one of the most common flaws in golf players but we have some good news. It's correctable. Early extensions take place if the player's hips move forward toward the golf ball while in swing mode. The result affects the extension of your spine and limits your ability to rotate.

Over the Top. On the contrary, over the top transpires when the golf club sweeps over the slot on the downswing. The slot is fixed by a line along the club handle while in the setup position, and another when the dominant forearm is past parallel.

Do you experience any of the four physical limitations noted above? Well, there are things that you can do to help your pain and golf game. Like we said, keep reading. 

How to Do it All Despite Your Pain

Physical therapy is a great way to stay active and can be as simple as a few exercises targeted to relieve the area of pain on your body.

Stretching exercises to do at home:

  1. Shoulder rolls backwards 10 times
  2. Shoulder blade squeeze 10 times
  3. Chin in 10 times
  4. Chin in and slowly stretch your head back 10 times
  5. Head turn over shoulders 10 times each direction
  6. Standing back bend stretch 10 times

Simple stretching and physical activity, paired with massage therapy and leisurely walks, can turn your disability into an ability. Look at Bernstein.

“I look forward to my Friday massages tremendously. I get to leave work early, go to my two-hour appointment and then shoot golf balls with a few buddies,” he said.

So if you're in the one-third of golfers who hurt, Bernstein offered, “My advice would be to talk about your pain. When you talk about any secrets or disappointments that may stem from your back pain, you take away its power and before you know it, you're strolling with your best friend on the beach laughing, or in my case playing golf in sunny Florida.”

Updated: June 7, 2021

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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Contributors and Experts

Dr. Scott Rosner is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician through the American Board of Chiropractic Sports Physicians practicing at Weymouth Chiropractic.