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How to Prevent Lower Back Injuries in Golf

 Avoid injuries to the lower back in golf

Golf fitness training will improve your swing, and each component of such a program (flexibility, balance, strength, endurance, and power training) is integral in the process of achieving this goal.

Each one of these components has an additional benefit in relation to your game–the prevention of injury. Over the next few weeks we will discuss some common injuries in the game of golf and look at how a golf fitness program can assist in the prevention of these injuries. As I always say, it is much easier to prevent an injury than to rehabilitate from one.

This week we will begin with the lower back, one of the most common injuries in the sport. Research indicates that one out of two recreational golfers will incur a lower back injury at some point during their playing career.

Why is the lower back so often injured while playing the game? Research studies have provided us some clues as to why this may occur. The golf swing is commonly broken down into phases: address, take-away, backswing, downswing, impact and follow-through.

Each phase of the swing can be performed either efficiently or inefficiently. A PGA TOUR player is likely to perform the swing in a highly efficient manner, with optimal mechanics and requiring just a small amount of activity from the muscles to execute the swing.

An amateur or less-skilled golfer is more likely to have less efficient mechanics. To compensate for these improper mechanics, the golfer will attempt to generate extra force from specific muscles.

For example, research from Hosea indicated that, in certain situations, amateurs may develop up to 80 percent more peak torque in their lumbar spine (i.e. lower back) than a professional, and muscles required to generate excessive amounts of force are at a much higher risk of overuse injury.

In addition, Hosea also found professional golfers were generating 34 percent more clubhead speed than the amateur, yet amateurs were producing spinal forces 50 to 80 percent higher and had 50 percent more trunk muscle activity than the professional.

All this information points to the first reason why the lower back is commonly injured- inefficient mechanics cause the muscles of the body to work harder to generate force in the golf swing. Over time, these muscles will become fatigued from the repetitive movement trauma caused by inefficient mechanics and thus increases dramatically the possibility of an overuse injury to the lower back.The next question to ask is how can the amateur counteract such a situation? First and foremost is the development of more efficient golf swing mechanics. This can only be done through proper instruction and practice.

Preventing lower back injuries from your golf swing

Research points to the fact that 50 percent of all recreational golfers will incur a lower back injury at some point in their playing careers. Studies have also been able to identify reasons why such a high incidence rate of injury to the lower back often occurs.

First and foremost, the biomechanics of the golf swing place large amounts of stress on the musculature of the lower back. The amount of stress is dependent upon the efficiency at which the biomechanics of the golf swing are performed. Less efficient mechanics require the musculature of the lower back to work harder to execute the golf swing, thus resulting in greater amounts of stress and fatigue in this area of the body.

Research has also indicated that the amateur golfer, relative to a PGA TOUR professional, has a less efficient golf swing, which results in the body (i.e. muscles of the lower back) having to work much harder to execute the golf swing. As a result, the percentage of injury is much higher.

All of this points to the first step in preventing lower back injuries, which is to develop more efficient swing mechanics. This will result in less stress being placed upon the lower back, thus lowering the chance of injury.

In addition to developing more efficient swing mechanics, the golfer, whether a professional or an amateur, must look at an additional component to prevent such injuries.

The golf swing is classified as a repetitive biomechanical movement, meaning the golfer executes the same movement pattern over and over again. This requires the same muscles to fire in a sequential order to execute the golf swing. Over time, regardless of the efficiency within your swing, these muscles become fatigued. Once this occurs the execution of the swing is compromised and the possibility of injury from fatigue increases dramatically.

To counteract this fatigue caused by the repetitive movement of the golf swing, one must implement a golf-specific strength and conditioning program. Such a program will increase the musculature strength and endurance capacities of the muscles involved in the golf swing, which includes the lower back. This will allow you to execute the repetitive movements of the golf swing over and over again successfully and without fatigue, thus reducing the chance of a lower back injury.In review, we have two components to assist in the prevention of lower back injuries from the golf swing. The first is the development of more efficient mechanics, thus placing less stress on the lower back. Number two is the implementation of a golf-specific strength and conditioning program, utilized to develop the required levels of strength and endurance to execute the golf swing without fatigue.

Steps to Take in the Prevention of Lower Back Injuries

The amount of stress can decrease or increase depending upon the efficiency with which you swing the club, but no matter what the lower back is under stress with each and every swing.

we saw that the golf swing is classified as a repetitive movement. On the course or at the range, you are performing the same movement over and over again, resulting in what we classify as repetitive movement trauma (RMT) to all the muscles involved in the execution of the golf swing. RMT is the situation in which the muscles involved in the golf swing become fatigued from executing the golf swing over and over again.

To counteract the above results from the golf swing, we can take some steps to negate the effects on the body. Outside of creating more efficiency within the golf swing to place less stress upon the lower back, we must look at preventative steps to take on the physical side of the equation.

This takes the form of a comprehensive golf fitness program designed to develop the required levels of flexibility, balance, strength, endurance, and power within the body. A golf-specific fitness program will, number one, provide you the physical ability to execute the golf swing without compensations, and, number two, withstand the stressors placed upon the body from the golf swing.

Exercises like this one can help prevent lower back injuries  

Such a program begins with modalities (i.e. exercises) to counteract the effects of the golf swing. Repetitive movement trauma from the golf swing causes muscles to become fatigued. Once muscles become fatigued they become “tight” and the muscles actually shorten in terms of length, causing sensations of soreness, tightness, and discomfort. This is a “defense mechanism” the body uses to prevent further damage (i.e. injury). We often ignore such situations and continue to play until a more severe injury occurs.Knowing how the muscles of the body react to repetitive movement trauma and to counteract the shortening (i.e. tightening) of these muscles, we can implement modalities to assist in the lengthening of these muscles to their original length. These modalities can be in the form of flexibility exercises to lengthen tissues (i.e. muscles) shortened from the effects of the swing.

The goal of these flexibility exercises is to stretch muscles, returning them to what we call their optimal length tension relationship. This then allows these muscles to properly execute the golf swing without compensations.

Exercises I like to stretch muscles of the lower back fatigued by the golf swing are “Cats” and “Openers”. Both of these exercises are beneficial in counteracting RMT caused by the golf swing. Next week we will look at the next step in the physical side of the equation to assist in the prevention of lower back injuries in the sport of golf.

The second step in the prevention of lower back injuries

the golf swing places large amounts of stress on the lower back. Because of the repetitive nature of the golf swing, over time the musculature of the lower back will become fatigued. Once this fatigue occurs to the lower back, compensations in your swing and thus the possibility of injury are higher.

To avoid such situations it is recommended that we take preventative steps in the form of golf fitness training. This type of training will assist in the prevention of lower back fatigue, injury and compensations in the golf swing.

The first step in relation to the lower back and the prevention of injuries was discussed last week. We looked at a series of flexibility exercises to help “stretch” muscles that become “tight” from the golf swing. Once a flexibility program is in place to “lengthen” the muscles of your lower back, it is time to proceed to the next step.

The next step is the addition of golf-specific lower back strengthening exercises. Referring back to the golf swing, we know it is a repetitive movement (i.e. an athletic action performed over and over again). As you continue to swing the golf club, the muscles incorporated with the execution of the golf swing become tired, including the lower back.

In order to counteract this golf swing fatigue factor, we must strengthen the muscles involved in the swing. This will allow you to execute the golf swing more efficiently and for a greater amount of time before the body becomes tired.

It is also important to realize how the muscles are used in the golf swing. As a result, some ordinary lower back strengthening exercises may not be properly suited for the golfer. For this reason it is vitally important for the golfer to utilize golf-specific strengthening exercises, developing the musculature of the body in the positions and movement patterns of the golf swing.

The lower back strengthening exercises I implement into a training program for golfers help develop musculature strength in rotational movements patterns. This type of exercise pattern assists in strengthening the lower back through the movement patterns involved in the golf swing.

Examples of two lower back strengthening exercises in a rotational pattern I utilize are the Seated Russian Twist and the Bent Knee Side-to-Side. Both of these golf-specific exercises train the entire core and strengthen the lower back in a rotational movement pattern.

Reduce the fatigue on your lower back

Up to this point we have covered a vast amount of information in relation to the golf swing and lower back injuries. We first learned that the mechanics of the golf swing place large amounts of stress upon the lower back. Over time, such stressors will cause fatigue in the lower back, leading to possible injury.

We are also aware steps can be taken to prevent such an incidence from occurring. The first of these is the improvement in the efficiency at which you swing the golf club. This will reduce the amount of stress placed upon the lower back each and every swing. Even if this step is taken, though, the lower back will eventually become fatigued over time.

As a result we must take some steps on the “physical side of the equation” to develop the proper levels of flexibility, strength, and endurance to withstand the stresses placed upon the lower back from the golf swing. As previously discussed this comes in the form of a golf fitness program.

This type of program will “stretch” the muscles of the lower back and build up strength within the core. In addition such a program needs to develop higher levels of endurance within this region of your body.

We know the golf swing is a repetitive movement causing what we term RMT (repetitive movement trauma). Recall from previous articles RMT is the result of an athletic movement performed over and over again by the muscles of the body. This over time results in fatigue of the muscles involved within the movement.

In addition to developing higher levels of muscular strength to counteract RMT we must increase the levels of endurance within the muscles of the lower back. Endurance as it pertains to the muscles of your body is the ability to perform a movement over and over again without becoming fatigued.

This will allow your body to continue to execute the golf swing without becoming fatigued. Just as there are golf-specific flexibility exercises to stretch the lower back such as Cats and exercises to strengthen the lower back like the Seated Russian Twist, we have golf-specific exercises to increase the endurance levels within the lower back.

One such exercise I often recommend to increase endurance levels is the Alternating Arm and Leg Extension. Begin this exercise with your knees on the floor and hands directly under your shoulders. Keep your eyes focused on the ground throughout the exercise. From this position, simultaneously extend the left arm and right leg to positions that are directly out in front and behind your torso. Once both the arm and leg are extended, hold the position for two seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat this sequence with the opposite arm and leg. Alternate back and forth for 10-15 repetitions with each arm and leg.

Again, keep in mind preventing lower back injuries from the golf swing is a four-step process: Step number one is improvement in the efficiency of your golf swing; step two is to increase the flexibility of your lower back; step three is developing strength in the lower back; and in step four, improve your muscular endurance levels.

When you put all these steps together, there’s a great formula to prevent a lower back injury from happening to you.


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