The Golfer's Guide to Lower Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

The Golfer's Guide to Lower Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Reviewed by Nic Bartolotta, MPT, HHP

You aren’t alone, millions of amateur and professional golfers experience lower back pain. And with so many causes, treatments, and prevention techniques out there, it’s hard to tell right from wrong. That’s why we consulted our Chief Clinical Officer and award-winning Physical Therapist, Nic Bartolotta, to help you understand everything you need to know about your lower back pain from golfing. 

Symptoms

There’s often more than meets the eye with golf, especially when it comes to lower back pain. The symptoms aren’t always so obvious and no two cases are ever the same. Regardless, these are the most obvious signs that something is wrong:  

 

  • General back stiffness, making it difficult to sit for long periods, bend over, perform basic functions.

 

  • Aching & soreness in your lower back, usually on the trailing side of your swing. Right-handed golfers commonly experience pain on the lower right side of their back while left-handed golfers feel that same pain on the left side. 

 

  • A sharp, shooting pain in your leg during your swing, a common sign of a herniated disc. 

 

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you probably already have some theories about what’s causing them. Let’s explore these causes in more detail. 

Why does golf hurt my lower back?

Golf is not often considered a physical sport. But in reality, the repetitive twisting motions put your erector spinae (spinal muscles) under extreme stress. And with the stress concentrated to just one side of your spine, it puts you at a serious risk for long-term health issues if not addressed. 


The motion of the swing is only half of the equation; the other piece is force. Golfers can generate thousands of pounds of force with each swing, especially when driving long balls off the tee or fairway. 


But knowing that your back hurts and understanding why it hurts are two very different things. These are the most common reasons associated with lower back pain: 

Bad mechanics

Your swing mechanics are likely the culprit. So if you’re in pain and know for a fact that your swing resembles any of these, that’s where your treatment starts. 


  • Choppy, broken swing 
  • Leaning too much to your trailing side when
  • Rotating your spine past its maximum range of motion
  • Incorrectly engaging your muscles during the swing
  • “Coiling” for added power by restricting hip rotation
  • Rotating the leg inward at the hip with a narrow range of motion, risking injury to the hip
  • Playing golf for extended periods of time, leading to muscle fatigue

 

Weak muscles

A weak core forces the surrounding muscles to pick up the slack during your swing, almost always resulting in acute lower back pain. 

General overuse

Golfer’s don’t get enough credit for their fitness. The average golfer walks 5 miles over the stretch of an 18-hole course. Coupled with 70-100 swings, your body will quickly break down if it’s not in good physical condition. And if you’re playing several rounds per week, your fitness is even more important. 


It’s also possible that your pain has nothing to do with your golf swing at all. It could be a result of poor posture while walking, carrying your clubs, or sitting in the cart. 

How to recover from lower back pain caused by golf

We know this isn’t what you want to hear, but if your lower back already hurts, take time off to rest, recover, and prevent further strains. Here’s what to do:

Rest for 2-3 days

Injury rehabilitation occurs in stages. After the initial stage (pain & inflammation), your cells begin to repair and regenerate tissue. It’s critical that the injured area is immobile during this healing phase so that healthy tissue can form as quickly as possible. If you exert your body before your cells fully heal, you expose yourself to more severe injuries in the future. 

Apply heat and ice

Ice your lower back several times in the first 24-48 hours post-injury. This will reduce the swelling and inflammation, allowing your body to start recovering sooner. Then, use heat to promote tissue regeneration and alleviate tightness in your back and upper leg muscles. 

Stretch and massage your muscles

Muscles tense up after an injury to protect the body. And if you want to heal quickly, you’ll need to stretch and massage your way back out there. It won’t be easy, especially at first. But over time you’ll regain joint and muscle mobility.


The most effective way to reduce soreness, get rid of knots, and promote recovery is by foam rolling your lower back. The Rollit breaks down scar tissue and restores full range of motion from the comfort of your home, without having to pay for expensive massages or physical therapy.

foam rolling lower back

How do I stop my lower back from hurting when I play golf?

It’s finally time to get back out on the course, but how do we make sure this never happens again? We’ve got you covered. 

Warm up and cool down by stretching and foam rolling your muscles

If you’re like most golfers, you probably hit a few balls on the driving range before switching over to the chipping green to practice your mid to short game. And then before you tee off for each hole, you take a few practice swings to find your rhythm. It’s pretty straightforward, but it’s not enough.


To prepare for a good round, you must stretch, foam roll, and gradually progress through your full range of motion before you take your first swing. Not to mention, dynamic warmups prime you for a good round off the first tee box, not still “easing into it” on the 5th hole. 


The best golf warmup stretches take your body through dynamic movement that cover your entire range of motion. So next time you’re headed to the course or the range, spend some time performing dynamic back, hip, and shoulder movements. After you’re done, kickstart your recovery with static lower back, hip, and hamstring stretches. 


Stretching has been around forever, but it’s not the most efficient way to warm up and cool down – your body needs more. The Rolflex combines static and dynamic stretching into one, making it the ultimate warmup and recovery tool. The deep tissue roller massages your arms and legs, triggering myofascial release. This process circulates blood and opens up your range of motion before golf and accelerates recovery and reduces soreness when your round is over. And the best part is, it doesn’t take long at all. Just 10 minutes before & after golf will eliminate your chronic lower back pain for good. Shop the Rolflex!

Fix your golf swing mechanics

It’s easier said than done. You’ve been swinging your clubs the same way for years, why change now? Though your skills may suffer in the short-term, natural swing mechanics will preserve your health in the long-term so you can keep golfing for years to come. 


So where to start? 

  • Keep your spine neutral
  • Bend your knees and hips
  • Avoid leaning too far to the side on your back swing
  • Don’t overswing – swing fast, not hard
  • Practice your swing in both directions. 

Golf swings aren’t that simple though. Given their speed and complexity, it's impossible to diagnose the problem on your own. Record your golf swing to see where your mechanics break down, then make a plan to correct it. 


Breaking muscle memory is hard – it’s going to take more than 1-2 recording sessions to correct your swing. But while you’re working to improve, there are things you can do on the golf course to fix your lower back pain:


  • Fix your posture - Pull your head & shoulders back so they’re in line with the rest of your body. Use your core muscles to maintain this position during your swing, walking to your next shot, and even sitting in the golf cart. This is the position that the top half of your posterior chain is meant to be in, meaning you’ll significantly reduce your chance of injury just by sitting up straight. 

  • Alternate which shoulder you carry your clubs on – Most of us carry our golf bag on the same shoulder every single time. And whether you experience lower back pain or not, you should alternate shoulders to fix muscle imbalances and prevent unnecessary strain. 

  • Take breaks – Whether it’s 9 holes instead of 18 or three rounds instead of four every week, it’s important to take breaks to prevent further injury. At least 24 hours is ideal, but we know that’s not always possible. But even a few extra minutes between holes will go a long way in aiding your recovery and prolonging your golf career. 

  • Add strength and mobility training into your daily routine

    Just working out your lower back won’t fix your pain, you’ll need to incorporate both strength and mobility training into your daily routine. Strong, flexible muscles protect you against joint and soft-tissue injuries, preventing your lumbar from absorbing the intense force from your swing. Your muscles are equipped to handle this kind of stress, your spine is not. 


    But it’s not just about lower back exercises. If you ignore the other muscles involved in your golf swing, you’ll create imbalances in other parts of your body. Make sure your strength and mobility training targets your core, hips, hamstrings, shoulders, and forearms – each of these play their own role in your swing. And in addition to eliminating pain and reducing the chance of injury, strong muscles will help correct poor swing mechanics, improving your golf game.


    Fixing your lower back pain is going to take more than a day or two. But with the right recovery tools and process, you’ll be back out there in no time. 

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