How To Fix Golf Lower Back Pain: 2 Proven Strategies and TechniquesNov 07, 2023
Lower back pain is the number one injury complaint amongst golfers, accounting for somewhere between 18% and 54% of all documented ailments. There is nothing worse than teeing off and feeling that sharp or aching pain running down your backside, so this article is here to help. Let’s take a look at some of the causes and fixes for golf lower back pain.
What Causes Golf Lower Back Pain?
Many factors are likely contributing to this problem. The lower back is already the most common site of injury for the general populace, so it’s no surprise that similar numbers have crept into the world of golf. Of the 26 million plus golfers in the United States, about 25% of them are over 65, and a population that skews older doesn’t exactly help with these statistics.
Golf appeals to a range of players, however, each with varying levels of training and fitness. The challenge lies in balancing the demands of the golf swing with the diverse skills and readiness of each player on course. Swinging a golf club is actually quite a violent event that happens very quickly, and one that requires a certain degree of strength and coordination to do well.
Good golfers pay attention to several components of fitness to try and mitigate the likelihood of injury. If someone has insufficient muscular strength, limited joint flexibility, restricted body movement, or otherwise inadequate flexibility, they could be more prone to low back pain while golfing or afterwards as a result of their play. Let’s take a look at two main causes.
Cause #1: Muscle Weakness
You might think that if the lower back is getting hurt, it must be the lower back that is weak. While this can be true some of the time, the truth is actually a little more complex. One of the biggest causes of lower back pain in golfers and other individuals is not actually a weakness in the back, but a weakness in the deep abdominal muscles.
Two muscles in particular, transversus abdominis and internal oblique (IO), reach far into the centre of your midsection, and contribute majorly to stabilization and protection of the spine. Along with the pelvic floor muscles and a deep lower back muscle called multifidus, they work in concert with one another to create what is called intra-abdominal pressure.
Being able to create and maintain intra-abdominal pressure is critical for core stability, and core stability is a prerequisite for powerful, efficient movement of the extremities. This is something that is of the utmost necessity during the golf swing. Failure to properly engage the core prior to or while performing a golf swing leaves our lower backs open to wear, tear, aches, and pain.
(Credit: Adobe Stock)
Fix: Strengthen the Deep Abdominal Muscles
To learn how to engage these muscles, start in a standing position with one hand on your belly and one hand on your lower back. Inhale, then slowly exhale. While exhaling, gently pull your belly button in towards your spine (like putting on a tight pair of pants). Try to do this without activating the muscles in your lower back, using your other hand for feedback.
When you’ve learned how to feel and control these muscles, you need to start integrating them into other exercises. When people say “tighten your core” or “brace” while performing exercise, they usually mean pushing out or making your midsection hard. We want you to try doing the opposite. “Engage your core” = drawing the belly button in.
Your bracing technique will start to look something like this (we will use a squat as an example). Get into your starting position. Inhale, hold your breath in preparation to move. Before you begin your descent into the squat, draw the belly button in, engaging the core. Hold this position throughout the movement, exhaling on the way up. Reset (inhale, release your belly, re-engage). Repeat.
Golfers with a strong, properly functioning core will have more power off the tee and a less likelihood of hurting their lower backs. (Credit: Adobe Stock)
Cause #2: Limited Mobility
When we are talking about limited mobility, we are, again, not talking specifically about the lower back, but about areas around the lower back. Many people actually have hypermobility (too much mobility) in the lower back due to faulty posture compensations. The upper back, however, is fraught with issues as a result of modern work and sedentary lifestyles.
Kyphosis means excessive rounding in the upper back; a hunchback posture. This posture is often coupled with forward head posture, where the chin juts forward and our head sits far ahead of the collarbone. When we sit for prolonged periods of time (at the office, on the couch or in the car) we often fall into this posture, and overstretch our upper backs as a result.
Having a tight upper back is bad news for a golfer. Recoiling into the backswing and completing the follow-through both require tremendous mobility in the upper spine. When there is restriction in this area, the force that would normally work through these structures becomes stuck and redirected, and it often gets shot right into the lower back as the body looks for an outlet.
Use of our phones is another common culprit in creating the kinds of postural problems we are talking about. (Credit: Adobe Stock)
Fix: Mobilize & Strengthen the Upper Back
As a result of spending so much time in slouched positions, our backs are very susceptible to adapting permanently to such postures in an effort to make them more comfortable for us. This has a lot of drawbacks, especially for golfers. We need to first get the upper spine moving, and then strengthen the muscles around it to promote better posture full-time.
A foam roller will be required. Lay with the roller positioned at the top of your upper back in between your shoulder blades. Gently bend back and forth over the roller, trying not to arch your lower back (pictured below). Use small movements, and focus on trying to feel the vertebrae moving. Stay on a segment until you feel it loosen. Repeat down the spine, to the lower chest.
Gently arch your back over the roller, it will be a very small movement.
Once the vertebrae start loosening up, we want to strengthen the upper back to keep it in a good position. To do this, perform the exercise pictured below, called Cobra Swims. This exercise works on extending the upper spine, and then strengthening muscles in the shoulders and upper/lower back to promote good posture and, resultantly, more powerful, stable swings.
Cobra Swims - Dynamic Golfers
- Perform this AFTER the mobility exercise
- Start in a prone (belly down) position with both hands behind your head
- Raise your elbows and chest up off the floor, squeezing the shoulder blades together
- Extend your arms straight out to the side, continuing to squeeze the upper back
- Reach your arms back behind you while keeping them elevated off the ground
- Reverse the sequence, coming back to the starting position
- Repeat 10 times for one set; complete 3-5 sets
- Rest for 30-60 seconds in between each set
Fix Lower Back Pain With Dynamic Golfers!
The exercises and advice given in this article are just a snippet of the information you receive when you become a member of Dynamic Golfers. We have hundreds of follow-along routines for strength training, mobility, flexibility and injury rehab. Join thousands of athletes worldwide learning how to golf pain-free by trying us out with a 7-day free trial!
Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist