A Great Game of Golf without Back Pain

Getting Started with Golf

Golf. Jacob Sjoman Svensson/Collection:Folio Images/Getty Images

Getting Started with Golf

Millions of Americans enjoy the game of golf - for all sorts of reasons.  It makes a great retirement activity, it improves your aim, you can get your walking in and many a deal has been forged on the green.

But when your back acts up, things can run afoul.  Sometimes back pain is due to a golf injury, while at other times you bring your condition to the course  - and it gets in the way of a good time.

In this article I'll share a few back-knowledge tips, provided by Burak Ozgur, M.D., a Southern California neurosurgeon and spine specialist who is also an avid player to help you navigate this potential mine field and get back on track asap.

Golf and Back Pain

Golfing. Karen D'Silva/Collection:StoneMax/Getty Images

Golf and Back Pain

Before picking up a golf club, you should get in good shape Lose weight if you need to, and also strengthen your core, hips and knees, says Ozgur.  As with any other sport, speak with your doctor to be sure you’re fit for the endeavor. 

Related:  Water Exercise for Back Pain

"Taking up golf is a like taking up jogging. You start with a short distance and build your capacity.  With golf, start with something easy, like putting."

Then continue building your fitness with cross training.  

Ozgur also suggests working with a golf coach or personal trainer who has golf experience in order to get your swing mechanics down.  “This equates to a better game and less risk for a back injury,” he comments.


Telephone Interview. Ozgur, B. M.D. ONE Brain & Spine Center. California. October 2016.

Golf Swing and Your Spine

Golf swing
Golf swing. Multi-bits/Collection:StoneMax/Getty Images

Golf Swing and Your Spine - Where's the Link In The Chair?

Which part of the golf swing is most often responsible for back pain or injury?

“A proper swing is complex, and everyone has strengths and weaknesses” all along the chain of moving parts involved in a golf swing,” Ozgur says.  “Determining what part of your golf swing needs prep work is individual.  It could be core, hips, knees, even your grip."

For this reason Dr. Ozgur recommends having your golf swing analyzed by computer.

A professionally done analysis is your best bet because it can help you understand the components of your individual swing.  Your balance may be good overall, but one small thing that’s off can throw your entire game, or predispose you to injury, he says.

“Don’t pretend you know what you’re doing – it’s not about that.  Golf is mechanical.  The science is reproducible with golf swing analysis.  Having one done can keep you, your swing and your game healthy.”

Typical Golf Injuries to the Back

Golf Back Pain
Golf Back Pain. Jeannot OlivetMore/Collection:E+/Getty Images

Typical Golf Injuries to the Back

The most vulnerable part of the spine is L4 - L5 joint.  Ozgur says this is especially when you’re twisting, bending, and carrying loads.  The same is true when you do other sports such as cross fit, yoga and Pilates.

“Typically the intervertebral discs are the most affected, especially in the short term,” Ozgur says.  “Types of golf related disc injuries include bulging and herniated discs.  Over time the most common injury may be due to discs drying out.  This may lead to facet arthritis as well as wear and tear at the back part of the spinal column.

Hitting the Golf Ball Is An Art

Golf. Erik Isakson/Collection:Blend/Getty Images

Hitting the Golf Ball Is An Art

What about technique? Does it make a difference in a golfer’s injury risk?

To answer this question, Dr. Ozgur cautions weekend warriors, saying there’s no place for that kind of attitude when you play golf.

“The name of the game is the proper form,” he says.  “But many people have an instinct to whack the golf ball.  When you whack you do a bad game, ball doesn’t go as far and you can get injured.”

"Swinging a golf club is not the same as swinging a baseball bat,” Ozgur offers.

Treatment for Golf Injuries To The Spine

Physician examines a patient with low back pain.
Physician examines a patient with low back pain. mangostock

Treatment for Golf Injuries To The Spine

What to do when you do injure your back?

Most back injuries due to golf can be treated conservatively.  Dr. Ozgur, says.  “Only a small percent need discectomy or other surgery.” 

Based on that, the first thing to do is to calm the injury down with rest, and possibly taking anti-inflammatory medication.

If there’s no permanent damage to your back, Ozgur suggests working with a physical therapist (and not just a trainer.)  A qualified and licensed physical therapist has experience with medical conditions and guide you as you build your game back up again - while remaining mindful of your individual injury.

By the way, this same advice is true if you’re recovering from back surgery, i.e. it’s best to get strong and build your muscle gradually – don’t just jump back in the game again.

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