Golf and the spine

Q: I’ve just started playing golf. Many of my golf buddies who’ve been playing for years have chronic back pain. How can I avoid developing back problems?

A: A proactive approach is required if you wish to continue enjoying the game of golf and maintaining an injury-free back. Here are a few tips from the experts for both the novice and veteran golfer:

1.      Warm up by walking briskly to increase circulation to all the muscles. Then perform some stretches with particular emphasis on the hamstrings and torso musculature. The improved flexibility brought about by stretching before (and even after) a golf game has two benefits: it helps to prevent injuries and you’ll be able to maintain a more consistent swing.

2.      After stretching, continue to warm up by practicing a few half swings followed by a few full swings before getting started.

3.      Consider taking lessons from a professional golf instructor. Poor swing technique results in wasted effort and added back strain. It is best to adopt a golf swing in which the hips turn as well as the shoulders. This type of swing minimizes harmful stress to the lower back. Other swing techniques, such as the type performed by Tiger Woods, involves extreme twisting of the back, greatly increasing the potential for back injury.

4.      Use clubs that fit. Adapting your swing to improperly fitting clubs will likely cause back injury.

5.      Maintain correct posture. While putting, bend at your hips. This keeps your back straight instead of rounded and bent forward. The use of a long putter is helpful in maintaining proper posture. When bending to pick up balls, keep your back straight by squatting down and bending at the knees.

6.      Get a chiropractic check-up. When your hips or spinal bones are out of alignment, there is added stress on the joints, muscles and nerves. This sets the stage for back injuries and may make it difficult to maintain proper form.

7.      After playing a few holes, take 2 or 3 swings with the opposite hand to help even out the stresses on your back and balance the muscles.

8.      Use a pull cart to transport your clubs. Walking with a pull cart will provide you with some cardiovascular exercise. Avoid carrying a golf bag. Its weight and bulk are cumbersome on the spine.

9.      Back injuries are more likely to strike those who are overweight, in poor cardiovascular condition, and have weak abdominal and back muscles. A chiropractor, physical therapist or fitness trainer can design a cardiovascular, weight training and stretching regime to fulfill your specific fitness requirements.