Golf is one of the most enjoyed retirement activities for seniors. Sadly, back pain from golfing is just as common and often caused by tightness in the middle part of your back, called the thoracic vertebrae, rather than the low-back itself. Learn three effective exercises that can improve mobility in your middle back and hips which will help to prevent pain in your low back after you finish up a round of golf.
Written by: Coach Todd
“It’s all in the hips. It’s all in the hips baby.”
These were the enlightened words from the one-handed sage Chubbs in the 1996 comedy classic, Happy Gilmore.
Chubbs, if it’s all in the hips, why do I feel it in my low back?
Great question. There’s a simple answer and believe it or not, it has little to do with the low back itself.
Golf is one of the most prized sports in America. The smell of the green. The fresh air. The camaraderie of chums cheering when you birdie and of course, heckling when you shank.
Few pastimes, lift the spirits of someone 50 or over like golf. But after 18 holes of fun in the sun, your achy joints and low back can shoot down your soaring spirit and drop it right in the rough. “Oh my achy back!”
Why You Have Back Pain From Golfing
Research shows that 28% of golfers experience back pain. The most common “solution” is to stretch the low back. And this may provide some temporary relief, let’s pause for a moment to put our Sherlock Holmes’ hats on and analyze a proper swing.
Watch this slow-motion swing and pay close attention at the very end. Notice the spine’s rotation as Sergio Garcia hit s his 231-yard shot…
Did you notice the incredible rotation in his spine, especially the middle portion of his back?
This part of the spine is called the thoracic region. Over decades of being hunched at our computers and watching long hours of evening television, our middle backs have tightened up. We’ve lost much of our twisting mobility. The ligaments, tendons, and muscles are pouting. “You never needed me. Why should I help you now?”
So how does this cause your low back pain when golfing? When your middle back is too tight, your low back overcompensates. Your low back pulls double duty while the rest of the plant workers are playing Rummy in the break room. Sooner or later, he busts through those doors and cries “I quit!”.
In a moment, you’ll learn how to whip that thoracic spine into shape like a well-trained service dog. But let’s first talk about some simple solutions to help prevent low back from golfing.
Simple Solutions to Eliminate and Prevent Lower Back Pain When Golfing
Go Slowly & Take Frequent Breaks – You’re Not 20 Years Old Any More
Yesterday, my one-year-old son, AJ, ripped down the playground slide on his belly. At the bottom, his feet planted into the ground while his spine whipped violently upward.
After a moment of tears and cuddling, he was back on that slide like nothing happened. Oh, to be young again! I probably would have wound up in a wheelchair.
As you get older, move slower. Osteoarthritis, general stiffness and even previous playground injuries as a youngster can wear down on the joints. Go slowly.
Additionally, remember, it’s a game. You are likely not trying to be the next Arnold Palmer or Tiger Woods. Enjoy the game. You don’t need to swing like your life depended on it.
Warm-up Before You Tee Up
When you were 20, you could likely jump straight into a power swing and be none-the wiser.
Now, it’s important to bring each joint through a full range of motion before you even walk out on the tee. Here’s a simple mobility routine I often do in the morning.
You don’t need to do the full 10 minutes. But do at least a few reps of each movement and your joints will feel as warm as if they’ve just come out of the oven.
After you’ve warmed up your joints, now it’s time to practice a few swings without power. Just focus on good form.
Let the joints feel the swing. It’s good to slowly increase the range of motion and speed with each practice swing. This will prepare your muscles, ligaments, and tendons for your full swing.
Are Your Swing Mechanics Causing Your Low Back Pain?
According to the Golf Channel Website,
“Just 20 men have ascended to the No. 1 ranking in golf; but only one man did it with four different golf swings. To be fair, who in their right mind would think of such a thing? If one got to No. 1 in the world rankings with a certain golf swing, it stands to reason that he would forever try to duplicate that swing.”
If one of the best golfers in the history of the sport realized he had to make adjustments, it may be time to investigate if your swing is causing your low back hurt. Even slight misalignments can tweak your back.
Here are 3 common mistakes that people make.
Stay Fit To Protect Your Low Back While Golfing
If you have read this far, you are likely one of our Good Lifers that already knows the benefits of staying strong and healthy.
You have gobbled up the fitness worm and swallowed the hook, the line, and even the sinker.
But if you are a first-time caller, here’s some recommendations from the Mayo Clinic to help whet your appetite. Maybe you’ll soon be drinking the Good Life kool-aid.
- Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefits. But even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time throughout the day can add up to major health benefits.
- Strength training. Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions. Or of course, we recommend isometric based exercises.
Ok, let’s move from general tips to specific tips to help prevent low back from golfing. It’s time to whip that thoracic spine in shape like Rocky prepping for his fight with Apollo Creed. Cue the “Eye of the Tiger” theme song, please.
Best Exercises to Reduce Back Pain from Golfing
Sit in a chair so that your knees are at 90 degrees. Scooch forward in the chair so your back is not resting against the backrest. Place a rolled-up towel between your knees. Squeeze the towel with your knees. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows extended outward. If you have shoulder issues and have a hard time bringing your hands behind your head, you can place your hands on your chest or even on your waist.
Rotate to the right until you feel a gentle stretch. Once you get to the end of your range of motion, try turning your neck a bit further. This will help get some extra range of motion in your middle back. Rotate back to the center.
Repeat 5x total tp each side.
This exercise is fantastic for improving the range of motion in the middle part of your back.
The reason you squeeze the towel between your knees is to create additional stability in your lower back and engage the core.
When you have back pain from golfing, it’s important to move slowly and gently. This exercise mimics part of your golf swing in a gentle, therapeutic exercise.
As you improve the range of motion in your thoracic spine with this exercise, you’ll decrease the likelihood of creating trauma to your low back in your swing.
Seated Back Bends
Sit in a chair with your knees at a 90-degree angle and shoulder-width apart. Place a ball or large rolled-up towel between the middle portion of your back and the chair. The ideal placement is at bra strap level. Guys, you’ll have to use your imagination to get the placement correct.
Now slowly lean your upper back over the ball one vertebrae at a time. Make sure not to arch using your lower back. You want to roll the middle back over the ball.
Don’t expect huge movements here. Each single vertebra doesn’t have a large range of motion. And since you are isolated your thoracic, focus on precision over huge movements. Continue to perform this stretch for 20 seconds.
Repeat 3 times.
Remember that slow-mo video we watched above with Sergio Garcia? To nail that perfect swing you have to rotate and arch your middle back just a bit at the end of the swing.
Not to beat a dead horse but if your middle back is tight, your lower back over-compensates and twists too far. This exercise helps improve the mobility in your middle back, protects your low back, and of course, helps you beat the pants off Fred’s foursome at the Annual Charity Golf Scramble.
Lay on your side. If you typically feel low back pain on your left side, then lay on your left leg. This is the leg we’ll be stretching first. Keep your right leg straight and slide your left knee up until it’s about 90 degrees or even with your hip. You can go further but if you feel pain anyway, back off until you don’t feel it.
Now you are going to rotate your pelvis toward your bent leg. The movement is a gentle rocking back and forth and helps to lubricate the hip socket.
Continue this stretch for 30 seconds on each side.
Now that we have your low back and middle back taken care of, it would be downright silly to forget about those all-important hips. Remember, Chubbs… “It’s all in the hips”. This one’s for you Chubbs.
Power comes from the hips. If you have stiff hips, you’ll try to generate power from other places *cough* your low back *couch*… excuse me. I have something in my throat. This exercise loosens up your hips tremendously.
You Can Play Golf Without the Fear of Back Pain
All three of these exercises protect your low back in different ways. The first two bring greater mobility to your middle back. And the third increases mobility in your hips.
So if you want to play golf well into your golden years without low back pain, spend a few minutes improving your hip and back mobility before you hit the Saturday morning green. This may just be your secret weapon that gives you the winners edge on the course.
And of course help you to enjoy the game with a strong, pain-free body that flies just as high as your spirits.
-To your health! (and golf game)