Part 1 – Teeing It Up
Let’s talk about that pain in your back (side) that’s been plaguing you for years. Low back pain (LBP) is an incredibly prevalent disorder that will affect over 80 percent of individuals at some point in their lifetime. And that’s just one episode! We aren’t even talking about chronic low back pain, which is a nagging issue that is often difficult to get rid of. These statistics on low back pain are for the general population – not considering golfers specifically. What’s the prevalence of low back pain in golfers? Ask around your local range or course next time you’re there, and I would hazard a guess that it is at least 80 percent. Why is this? Over the next few blog posts, we are going to
dive deep into the potential causes of low back pain, how we can identify them, how we can fix those problems and how you can improve your game through the process.
You have to go no further than the top news stories for the tour this year to see that low back pain is a common and potentially devastating issue. I’m sure the first name that comes to mind for you is Tiger Woods. While Tiger’s case is unique, and his recovery is turning out to be somewhat of a miracle, he has become the poster child for back pain and golf. Why Tiger’s case is unique is a topic for another time, and I would love to discuss it with you in person. But for now, we will just use him as a placeholder for how back pain can impact your game.
So why is back pain so prevalent? First, we have to look at what happens to your spine during a typical golf swing. To do this, we will break the swing down by segments to examine what your spine has to endure.
When you are standing over the ball, regardless of what club you are using, spinal stability becomes a priority. You must be able to maintain a neutral spine and adequately hip hinge to set up in the right position.
The backswing begins our setup for generating absolute power and torque throughout impact. In order to do so, we have to adequately rotate through hips and thoracic spine to wind up and cause potential energy. Think about making some cinnamon rolls and opening the pressurized tube of dough. This coil causes torque and compression. If we can’t adequately coil through hips and thoracic spine, lumbar spine will try to perform a job it cannot accomplish.
Top of Backswing
Depending on your unique swing and body characteristics, the top of your backswing can look different than mine. And that’s OK! However, this top of the backswing is when we have the most potential energy stored and we have to begin releasing it. If we don’t have the mobility or stability to get into the proper position, we will change our lumbar spine angles to compensate. This is risky business.
The beginning of our downswing is when this power begins to transition to the club. In fact, the maximum rotation you created at the top of your backswing will now increaseeven more! This is because the downswing starts with your hips and then travels up to your shoulders like a whip. You can imagine if you are already at your maximum rotation and then you try to rotate more, this energy will have to go somewhere. Often, it gets transferred into your low back, which is not where it belongs.
Impact and Follow Through
This is where the club head meets the ball, and your ball flight is determined. Most importantly, this moment of impact has the potential to send shockwaves up through the club, into your arms and down your spine. If you aren’t in the proper position, this can cause pressure in places you would rather it not be.
Does this sound complicated? Well that’s because it is! But if you’ve played golf for any length of time, you understand that our bodies and brains are magnificent and manage to perform these complex movements in sequence and often with drastic compensations – with minimal conscious thought on our part.
What you should be noticing is that due to the complexity of the golf swing, and how we all have some sort of limitation that will cause compensation, there are many places where things can start to break down. And the weakest link will often pay the biggest price.
In the next blog post of this series, we will dive into how we can identify specific issues with our bodies that contribute to our back pain. In the meantime, take a look at my last blog poston this subject to see if your hips can be an issue. Can’t wait to learn more or get into the office so we can start working on a solution? Call or email me today!
Until next time,
Dr. Belmore is a doctor of physical therapy, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Titleist Performance Institute Certified golf specialist.