Golf has for long been considered an older person’s sport and many mistakenly
believe that you don’t need a high level of fitness in order to be able to play. Yet, as a look at top golfers—past and present —shows, you need to be as athletic for golf as for any other sport.
But not all sport is unqualifiedly healthy. In a sport such as golf, incorrect technique can lead to back pain, which is the primary reason for injuries among both amateurs and professionals.
What is so risky about golf?
I had said in a previous column that the golf swing is not a natural movement and is not very back-friendly, even if the best techniques are employed. Eight times your body weight is forced through your spine as you reach full impact. Poor technique and repetition, more than the swing itself, are the main reasons for back pain in golf players. There is compression and excessive torsion of the spine when the body does not move optimally through a golf swing.
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All the wrong reasons
• Most executives start playing golf for professional reasons, without having played any sport for a long time—and in some cases, none at all.
• Many people want to start playing golf later in life, after middle age, to “get fit”. But it’s important to remember that you need to be fit in the first place to be able to play injury-free over a long period.
• Some youngsters start playing golf (either by choice or because their parents force them into it, with or without coaches) before their bodies are ready for it.
How to get a back-friendly golf swing
• Get a professional coach from Day 1 so that bad habits don’t set in. Bad technique can cause irreparable damage.
• Even if you have been playing for a long time and think that you are a good golfer, get your swing assessed by a coach. You’ll be surprised how much better your game can become.
• You need to get fitter from head to toe, and golf alone won’t do it. There is a very fine balance between stability, stretching and strength in golf.
• Get a specialist’s advice on muscle balance, posture analysis, swing analysis and footwear analysis. This is essential as much for performance enhancement and injury prevention as for injury management. The specialist should also advise you on golf-specific strength training and conditioning, something you may not find at regular gyms.
Tips to prevent lower back pain among golfers
• Warm up before playing. Just mimicking the golf swing without the club is a good start. Practise swinging before hitting each shot.
• The lower back and hamstrings need to be stretched regularly—but not right before playing.
• Carry the golf bag properly, if you need to, and never just on one shoulder, but across both; it’s best to use a cart.
The author is a practitioner of musculoskeletal medicine and sports and exercise medicine. He is also CEO and medical director of Back 2 Fitness.
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