G.U.R. - Golfers Under Repair

Spinal Golf Injury Rehabilitation

Back Up!

By Ramsay McMaster, and Greg Rankin

Are you one of a majority of golfers who believes the golf swing is bound to cause you back pain. Think again. The back is well structured to handle a golf swing with good fundamentals. However, bad golf swings and bad habits will cause back pain. Fix your swing faults by consulting a golf teacher, improve the following habits and you could be back playing back-pain-free golf in no time.

Check out these seven areas that cause back injuries in golfers.

Poor golf swing fundamentals

Back injuries rarely occur in the presence of good golf swing biomechanics. Rather they are caused by poor motor control and inefficient technique. Good swing fundamentals will not only produce an efficient swing, they will also reduce the risk of injury to your back. Some golfers are initially taught by family members who may have the best intentions but are not qualified to teach and may indirectly cause injury.

Studies show that the force placed on the lumbar spine (lower spine) during the golf swing is often higher in amateur players than in professionals. Performing good golf fundamentals will promote efficient kinetic and motor pattern, allowing the spine to operate in safe ranges throughout the golf swing.

RM: Bad swings X 3
GR: Looking at the lumbar spine

  • Normal “lordotic” curvature
    • Maintains correct disk position
    • Minimises spinal forces during swing

Poor public awareness

Most of us see golf as a leisurely pastime rather than a sport. Remember that the golf swing is an athletic movement. There is about eight times the body weight being forced through the spine during the golf swing in both amateurs and professionals. However amateurs do far less training specifically for this movement.

RM: Warming up with five clubs
GR: Back-strengthening exercises X 2

  • Club behind lower back
    • “Feel” exercise targeting the lower abdominals
    • Lower abs drawn in and tightened
    • Small rotational movement of the lower trunk
    • Establishes sequence between legs trunk and arms
    • Lifting up big toe helps switch on the key leg muscles
  • Club out in front
    • Another “feel” exercise targeting the lower back and abdominals
    • Lower abs drawn in and tightened
    • Pelvis tilted up and front (“raise belt buckle”)
    • Small up & down oscillations of club controlled by lower abdominals
    • Lifting up big toe helps switch on the key leg muscles

Visual swing misconceptions

We all practice the drills and set-up positions you see in magazines, on television and through videos.

Remember that these mediums provide two-dimensional images and the golf swing is a three-dimensional movement. Also remember the world's leading players train to reach certain position that amateurs cannot. Trying to copy these actions without external monitoring -- using a video or golf coach -- can exacerbate the swing misconception.

RM: Looking at images of Stuart Appleby
GR: Top of backswing with Greg Wilson, AIS Scholarship coach

Club fitting and equipment

If your equipment doesn't fit, you will be forced to make swing compensations which will lead to back injuries. No doubt you'll see examples of poor fitting equipment every day on the golf course.

Rather than letting the club do the work, they drive the clubhead into impact creating a whiplash effect on their bodies from poor sequencing of feet, knees, hips, shoulders arms and hands.

The results will likely be spinal injuries. Most of us began as “little Johnny using Dad's clubs” syndrome. A physically underdeveloped child with poor trunk and shoulder girdle stability is required to use excessive leavers to try and control clubs too long and heavy for them.

And don't forget the humble golf shoe. A golfer with poor fitting shoes walks more than eight kilometres per round placing stress on most joints in the body.

RM: Long-shafted club
GR: Getting fitted with Greg Wilson

Short game affects long game

Most amateurs don't spend hours a week working on their short game so this is predominantly found in low markers and elite players. In the putting stance the lower spin is kept in a fixed posture and position with rotation mainly coming from the thoracic (middle) spine. Holding this posture for prolonged periods can affect core stabilisers. This will cause poor recruitment patterns in the long game and could place a lot of stress on the lower spine leading to injury.

RM: Too much chipping or standing up leaning on wedge
GR: Stretching in between chipping

  • Club above head
    • DO stretch arms out as high as possible
    • DO draw in lower tummy
    • DO bend slowly from side to side
    • DON'T excessively arch lower back
    • Hold for 30 seconds

Predisposing factors

Excessive pre-round activity such as gardening can put you at higher risk of back injury. Gardening requires a pulling motor pattern that can reinforce flexed postures.

Prolonged sedentary work--driving, computer work, etc--before walking onto the first tee can also result in poor core stability and a slumped posture.

If your occupation is sedentary, take a few minutes throughout the day to reverse the result of sitting or standing in a fixed position.

RM: Pulling weeds
GR: Warm-up stretches X 2

  • As above
  • Lunge position and side bend with club above head
    • DO keep back straight
    • DO stretch out arms as high as possible
    • DO bend down to side of front leg
    • DO repeat on both sides
    • DON'T lean forward during stretch
    • DON'T “bounce” stretch
    • Hold for 30 seconds
  • Postural Extension Hold
    • DO draw chin inwards
    • DO draw lower abdominals inwards
    • DO squeeze shoulder blades down and in
    • DO have palms facing front
    • DO lift big toe to feel key leg muscles
    • DON'T forget to breath

Training volumes

You will see this golf animal at every driving range in the world hitting buckets of balls with terrier like tenacity with no goal or objective except to smash golf balls.

The result is probably the most apparent cause of back injuries in golfers. Hitting driver after driver can cause muscle fatigue which will in turn lead to golf muscle recruitment breakdown causing excessive compensations of the arms, shoulders and hips.

Poor trunk stability follows resulting in back injuries.

Take care when warming up. Begin hitting short pitch shots and perhaps increase the length of those shots in five-metre increments over the first dozen or so shots. Once adequately warmed up and hitting balls you can increase the range of movement and force of the swing,

RM: Hitting balls teed up with driver
GR: Hitting with a wedge

Golfers are creatures of habit. They have their own culture and their own swing. Look for golf-specific fitness systems or a physio with links to a local PGA Professional. The PGA Professional allows the therapist a stronger understanding of the components of the golf swing and how it breaks down. A lack of systems will result in a poor understanding of how to prevent back injuries in golf.

Studies have shown that with a three-month program of physical conditioning and coaching, a golfer with low back pain was able to play pain free by reducing the load on his spin with a correct technique and strengthening weak muscle groups.


Images were shot at the Australian Institute of Sport, Golf Facility, Moonah Links.
Thanks to Greg Wilson, AIS Scholarship Coach for his assistance.

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Introduction | Objectives | Benefits | Upper Body Golf Injury Rehabilitation
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