The answer to lower back tightness related to golf might not be what you think: Stretching isn’t the best long-termsolution for a tight lower back.
Naturally, this may seem counterintuitive because stretching can feel good and loosen up your back in the moment. But you may not realize that without following the proper short- and long-term protocols, it can do more harm than good. Especially when it comes to your golf swing.
Why does your back get tight in the first place?
Tightness in the lower back is usually the result of a combination of factors. In short, pain can occur when the supporting structures for the low back aren’t balanced and healthy.
Factors contributing to low back tightness include weak gluteal and core muscles, inflexible rotator cuff muscles and a lack of mobility in the upper back (thoracic spine). Sometimes it’s not a matter of all of those muscles being weak, but rather some being far stronger than others that creates imbalances and tightness.
Of course, more serious, but less common underlying spinal conditions such as bulging or herniated discs or stenosis can also cause lower back tightness. But even these conditions respond to the approach described below.
So if low back tightness applies to you, pay attention because you might be surprised with how much following the correct plan can help.
The long-term solution to lower back tightness and golf
The same general strategy for the relief of lower back tightness related to golf applies for all of the aforementioned causes:
1. Reestablish strength and tone to the muscles that support the back and increase mobility where it’s needed. It won’t take long to feel better overall, and you’ll eliminate the constant desire to stretch your lower back before, during and after playing golf.
2. Follow a comprehensive, golf-specific strengthening program to rebuild the support structure for your spine. Most of the exercises with the GOLFFOREVER program can be done at home with no equipment.
3. Be consistent with your program, and within two to six weeks (depending on your condition and fitness level) you should start to see a noticeable decrease in the tightness of your lower back.
How do I start feeling better today?
Before you’re able to see long-term results from a golf exercise program, there are some simple and safe movements and stretches you can do now to relieve lower back tightness.
The main focus should be on increasing mobility in the hips, shoulders and thoracic spine, and flexibility in the glutes, hamstrings, piriformis, psoas, rotator cuff and pectoral muscles.
A few foundational exercises to help these areas are shown below…
Practicing the following mobility drills in healthy ranges of motion will result in decreased lower back tightness before and after playing golf. Generally, 10-12 repetitions on each side (when applicable) is sufficient.
1. Upper Back Extension with Foam Roller
Even though the focus of this exercise is mobilizing the upper back, it will help to decrease pressure in the lower back, especially when swinging.
2. Lower Trunk Rotation
This is a simple exercise and relatively safe position for the lower back during rotation. But pay careful attention when doing this, because while some lumber (lower back) rotation is OK, it’s easy to rotate too much and that can make matters worse.
A key focus therefore is to rotate through the hips with a light brace of the core muscles that protect your spine. Followed correctly, this is a great exercise to do before you play golf.
When combined with the proper strength and mobility program, stretching can safely promote the lengthening of your muscles. For stretches prior to playing golf, hold for about 15-20 seconds at a moderate intensity. Remember to breathe during the stretch.
1. Glute Stretch
Tight gluteal muscles (buttocks) are a common contributor to lower back tightness. Stretching these will almost always cause reflexive relaxation in the lower back, which is a fancy way of saying it will feel good.
2. Standing Heel to Buttock Stretch
The psoas muscles (hip flexors) are attached to the front of the lumbar spine and can pull forward when tight to create lower back tightness. Tight psoas muscles can also increase the risk of injury during the golf swing.
The Standing Heel to Buttock Stretch targets those muscles and others.
The right approach makes all the difference
If you suffer from a tight lower back and it’s affecting your golf game, remember that a few one-off stretches can actually hurt instead of help. The real solution to preventing and permanently relieving lower back stiffness is a comprehensive, golf-focused strength and mobility exercise program.
That’s why we created GOLFFOREVER — to provide a simple and safe digital solution designed by health care professionals that helps golfers of all ages build a body primed for golf, every time you tee it up.
Dr. Jeremy James founded and was director of the Aspen Club Back Institute in Aspen, Colorado, is the coauthor of the bestselling The Younger Next Year Back Book and earned his Doctor of Chiropractic from the University of Western States. Learn more about Dr. James here.2