Back pain affects millions of Americans every single year, but more than that, it affects those who engage in sports.
You’re putting your body at risk just slightly more than the average person by engaging in them, and while there are benefits to be had, such as from golf, you need to know the possibilities.
Golf back pain is real, and if you aren’t careful, you can slip a disc or cause long-term lower lumbar damage that can impair you for the rest of your life.
Let’s take the safer path and learn what this back pain really is, and how to prevent it so you can tick it off the list of worries.
Symptoms of Back Pain in Golfers
Symptoms include general swelling, tightness in regularly exercised joints located near the lower back, sharp pain, dull pain, aching, fatigue, discomfort, and in some instances nausea.
Symptoms may prevent you from properly sitting down or lifting your golf bag.
Despite being centralized in the lower back, pain from this region can mimic the symptoms of shoulder pain, upper back pain, hip pain, and arm pain.
Once you strain your lower back, it is easier to damage other areas of your body.
So what actually causes you to feel this pain?
There are a number of things, most of which are preventable.
- Carrying Your Own Bag: Golf clubs are not only heavy, but rather oblong. Your bag doesn’t have any proper weight distribution; all of the weight is on one end, and that’s going to cause you to put more strain on other parts of your body, such as your shoulders, to compensate for it. If you’re not properly fit enough to carry your golf bag (if the bag weighs more than 35% of your total body weight and you have less than a 14% composition of body fat while being slightly fit), you will throw off your center of gravity. That forces you to slightly pull your buttocks back and extend your midsection to compensate for stress that’s being applied to your body, mostly being your lower back.
- Sciatic Nerve Damage (Sciatica): This isn’t something that presents itself in full force right away, which is what can make it particularly hard to diagnose and determine where its origin stems from. Your sciatic nerve is located in your lower back, and straining it or causing sciatica can permanently damage it, causing random spasms and spikes of pain to feel like they’re shooting up from your lower back, temporarily immobilizing you.
- Improper Swinging Motion: If your swing isn’t made up of the proper form, you’re putting your body through a lot of sudden movements, and you’re expecting the discs in your back to follow suit. Your body was not designed for golf, so these compound motions need to be carried out efficiently and effectively to avoid pulling muscles and damaging your ligaments.
- Not Cleared by Your Doctor: While nobody listens to the “Check with your doctor” warnings from medicine commercials, or in any regards, it’s something you should really be talking about. Golf is an exercise, but much of your time is spent sedentary. Your golf game is not the same as a dynamic workout; you may need to get your body in shape in other ways before you can actively play without a high risk of injuring yourself.
How to Prevent It
- Optimize Your Swings: Like we talked about before, your body was not made with the preset goal of playing golf. You need to swing in a way that your body can tolerate without increasing your risks for a slipped disc or pulled muscle. Use a golf gadget to track your swings, the angles, or even videotape yourself doing it to find out where you’re going wrong or what you’re missing. In this instance, a chiropractor might be able to assist you with alternate swinging motions that are better suited to help your back.
- Stretch and Flex: Stretches do help. Call it warming up your muscles, loosening up your joints, or any combination of different terms that you wish. Stretching and warm-up movements increase blood flow to your muscles and to the surface of your skin. Consider this lubricating your muscle to better operate, the same way you would lubricate the working parts of anything that’s made out of metal.
- Leave Anger at the Door: Every notice that when you get angry, everything gets a little bit tenser? The veins in your neck, on your temples, everything in between? That’s because you’re increasing your blood pressure, which you probably already knew. What you didn’t know is that increased blood pressure coupled with harsh movements (angrily swinging a club, thrashing, having a tense swing where you aren’t lubricating those muscles) drastically increases your chance of sustaining a lifelong lower back injury. It won’t just be short-term pain that you’ll have to worry about.
How to Treat It
Lower back pain, regardless of where you get it from, can all be treated the same way.
Depending on the severity of the injury, you may either be treating the injury, or just the symptoms of it.
The difference is that if you’re treating the symptoms, it is temporary relief over treating the cause (which will usually need to be fixed by a doctor, surgeon, or physical therapist).
- Reduce Swelling with Ice: Not a chemical Icy-Hot patch – straight up ice with a buffer. Chemical packs can be great for in-a-pinch moments, and you should use them if they’re available, but if the alternative is ice you will be better off. This is a more gradual cooling of your muscles. If your injury was sharp and you’ve caused yourself tons of pain, your muscle or tissue may be swelling, which can be remedied with some form of cooling.
- NSAIDs: These stand for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, being medications that help reduce swelling from the inside of the body. These are temporary pain relief remedies, since NSAIDs can actually take two to three weeks of consistent, scheduled use before they will specifically target inflammation. So don’t take these as an immediate solution that will solve everything. NSAIDs will block chemicals that signal pain in the body, temporarily of course, to help relieve the aggravating aches so you can actually focus on a solution.
- Massage: Massages have been proven to reduce the average/general level of pain throughout seeking a permanent solution for back pain. In many instances, massage therapy can be prescribed to assist the muscle in natural repairs, but it is not a permanent solution to actually fix your muscles after a golf injury.
- Muscle Relaxers: They’re not going to do what they did to Leo in Wolf of Wall Street, but the basic premise is that they force your body to relax by targeting the muscles. This is another example of a remedy, not a solution. Muscle relaxers may be combined with other medication (from your healthcare provider, of course) to give a combined relaxation and healing effect. Some medications may be used to target tissue that has been damaged, but in order for it to be effective, your body has to be willing to accept it.
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy not only helps with temporary relief from pain, but it also aids the body in naturally dealing with muscle and tendon repair, where appropriate. While it isn’t a sole solution, physical therapy may be prescribed after therapy, with other forms of pain management, and on average, you will continue to go to physical therapy for six months, up to around two and a half years. It’s a long-term commitment that can drastically help with serious lower back pain.
- Surgery: The last thing that anyone wants to hear, but if the injury was damaging enough to your nerves or spinal column, then you may require surgery as the last-ditch effort to reduce the pain and permanently fix the problem. Your backswing will never be the same again, but the pain will be gone.
These are ranked from the most practical for the least amount of pain and/or damage, down the list to the most extreme and for cases of intense pain that doesn’t let up.
Now that you know how back pain starts in golfers, you can more aptly work to prevent it from every bothering you in the first place. It’s a very real part of the gig: you can, and many people will, sustain back injuries at some point in time.
Whether you’re playing professionally or just for fun, or even just going to the driving range without going around all eighteen holes, you’re still at risk for the very real problems that come from a back injury, and back pain.
Do what you can to prevent it, golf safer, and continue to enjoy the game in the best way possible.