Here’s a scenario you may find all too familiar: You start a round of golf feeling physically great and excited about the day ahead. Then, a few holes in, it happens. Your lower back starts acting up and it becomes increasingly more difficult to make a swing, place the ball on the tee and pick it up after you’ve made a putt.

Fact is, lower back pain is the most common complaint and injury in the game of golf. Of course, there’s been no shortage of attention with the likes of Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Fred Couples and many others who have had some serious back issues.

So, the question begs: Why do so many golfers have bad backs?

Golf is a natural cause for pain

diagram of lower back during golf swing

By its very nature, the rotational forces of the golf swing create inherent risk to the lumbar spine (lower back). This has been compounded by recent trends in golf instruction that encourage a restriction of hip turn in the backswing in an effort to “coil” for more power.

In the eyes of many golf instructors, that means a great golf swing doesn’t necessarily correlate to one that’s healthy for your back.

This is mainly because the golf swing is one-sided (asymmetrical), with high-velocity movement through the lower back that’s repeated over and over again. Repetition in this manner makes the lower back tissues, such as discs and joints, subjected to very high loads that can wear down and degenerate much faster than other areas of the body.

The result is often tight, painful muscles that over time can lead to serious conditions such as disc bulges and herniations, arthritis, stenosis and more.

Solutions to eliminate and prevent lower back pain while golfing

No matter how long you may have been struggling with back pain, there are proactive measures you can take to prevent and relieve lower back pain associated with golf.

For many golfers, most problems that cause lower back pain respond very well to mobility and strengthening exercises. Very few cases need surgery if caught early enough, which leads to an important PSA for all golfers: Surgery for low back pain without radiculopathy (pain/numbness/tingling in the legs, arms, hands, feet) should not ever be considered without trying conservative measures first!

The power of two

There are two general categories of proactive exercise measures to prevent and relieve back pain associated with golf: strength/endurance and mobility.

Strength/Endurance: Building strength and endurance in key areas will enhance the body’s natural protective mechanisms against joint and soft tissue injury. Strong muscles act as a protective counter force against those created during the golf swing. For example, developing strength in key core muscle groups helps to control and dissipate forces at the end of the swing that would otherwise be directed through the lumbar spine. (Read: You may finally be able to swing freely in your follow-through without worrying about it hurting.)

Mobility: Increasing mobility in certain areas takes pressure off of other areas where too much mobility can be damaging. A great example of this is a mobility exercise for the thoracic spine (upper back) as illustrated below. Increasing mobility in the upper back means less rotational force is absorbed in the lower back, leading to less risk of injury.

Key exercises for strength/endurance and mobility

The following exercises will help you increase strength, endurance and mobility in the right areas to help prevent and relieve lower back pain in the golf swing:

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1: Diagonal Pull Pattern

woman demonstrating back exercise to help lower back, the diagonal pull

Goal: Build rotational strength in the core and hips, and mobility in the shoulders. Having strength in the core to counterbalance the tremendous rotational forces created during a golf swing is crucial to preventing injury.

2: Quadruped Thoracic Spine Rotation

man demonstrating back exercise to help lower back, the quadruped thoracic spine rotation

Goal: Increased rotational mobility through the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is fairly immobile due to the connections of the ribs to the spine. Therefore, proactive measures should be taken to achieve as much mobility as possible for the golf swing.

Both of these exercises will help protect your back from pain and injury, as well as increase your ability to turn in the backswing. That, by the way, is a nice side effect that translates to more power and distance!

You can play golf without the fear of back pain!

Committing to an exercise and mobility program specific for golf is crucial for preventing injury and playing the best you can. After all, there’s a reason many of the world’s best spend as much time with a trainer as they do working on their swing. You should, too!

The bottom line is that instilling exercises like these into your daily routine will not only prevent injuries and help you play better golf for years to come, but you may just start feeling as good after playing 18 holes as you did on your opening tee shot.


Dr. Jeremy James

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.


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