Golf Back Injuries

In sport as in daily life, there are probably no injuries more troublesome or persistent than back injuries. Regardless of what we do, it is almost inevitable that at a certain point in our lives we will experience some back problems. Even for those of us who try to maintain perfect posture and do all the correct things to maintain perfect back condition, nature usually takes its toll in the form of aging. A recent study shows that more than 80 percent of us will experience some form of back pain in our lives.

In sport as in daily life, there are probably no injuries more troublesome or persistent than back injuries. Regardless of what we do, it is almost inevitable that at a certain point in our lives we will experience some back problems. Even for those of us who try to maintain perfect posture and do all the correct things to maintain perfect back condition, nature usually takes its toll in the form of aging. A recent study shows that more than 80 percent of us will experience some form of back pain in our lives.

In this article, we will discuss some information regarding lower back pain and injuries in golf, why these injuries may occur, and what you can do about them. We will only be focusing on the lower back in this article, but we do have other information available regarding golf specifically, for example, golfer's elbow information.

Anatomy of the Back

To best understand the anatomy of the back, it is essential to take an in-depth look at the spine. This is the part of the body which comes under heaviest demand throughout your golfing career and life in general. It is responsible not only for supporting your head, shoulders and entire upper body, it also provides movement, stability and flexibility allowing you to live your entire life in comfort, all the while protecting your spinal cord.

The spine is composed of three major segments, the neck region which we refer to as the cervical spine and the lower back region which we refer to as the lumbar spine both form a natural c-shaped curve known as lordosis. The chest region which we refer to as the thoracic spine, forms a reverse c-shaped curve known as kyphosis. These natural curves are vital in our daily lives and help us to maintain balance and correct posture. Abnormal curves of the spine whether through injury or deformity can be very serious and impair or posture and capabilities throughout our lifetime.

The spine can further be dissected into categories of vertebrae, intervertebral disks, spinal nerves, muscles, ligaments and facet joints. Each of these perform a key role in sustaining our back health.

Vertebrae

These are the small bones which, stacked on top of each other, join to form your spine. They connect to form a natural curve which also protects your spinal cord. From the base of the skull to the upper chest, there are seven vertebrae forming the cervical spine. Twelve which connect to form the thoracic spine and five larger vertebrae joining to create the lumbar spine which are larger, supporting the greatest portion of body weight.

Intervertebral Discs

One of the most commonly heard of back injury sources and most important components of the back structure, these flat, rounded disks are positioned between each vertebrae. There expansion and contraction under pressure allows for movement of the back. They are around half an inch thick. This buffer along with their flexibility, allows them to absorb shock well.

Spinal Cord and Nerves

The spinal cord is essentially your body's nerve distribution center. Travelling from the brain to lower back through the protective route created by interconnected vertebrae, it is packed full of nerves which extend through openings in the vertebrae as the spinal cord passes through your body. This makes the spinal cord the most important part of the body for transmitting messages from your brain to other areas. For these reasons, a spinal cord injury almost always results in serious, long-term damage to bodily function.

Muscles and Ligaments

As in many other parts of the body, ligaments help to connect the vertebrae in your back. This provides a strong and steady position for the bones and ensures that the spine can maintain its natural shape. Muscles also help to support the back and upper body area under pressure situations.

Most Common Types of Back Injury

Lower Back Ligament and Muscle Injuries

Lower back pain accounts for between 18 and 54 percent of all injury complaints in golf. This means it is the number one injury complaint in the sport. A huge number of these complaints originate due to a lower back ligament sprain or muscle strain.

A ligament or muscle strain can be caused in a variety of ways. Anything from falling down, bending over repeatedly or lifting a heavy object in the incorrect manner can result in a lower back strain. So common are they, it is almost inevitable we will experience some form of lower back strain in our lives.

Pertinent to golf, repeated bending down over shots, arching the back and the stress caused by a club swing are all factors contributing greatly to lower back injuries in the sport. The constant movement in the area produces a high level of stress on the muscles and ligaments, resulting in the overwhelming number of lower back injuries we can see on the course.

Lower back strains may seem simple, but can produce nasty pain, stiffness and difficulty moving. Depending on the level of injury, they can take anything from a few days to several weeks depending on severity. These can also become a chronic issue, as we have seen recently with New Zealand golfer Danny Lee’s withdrawal from the BMW Championship due to lower back injury, his fourth of the season.

Bulging Disc and Pinched Nerve

Disc injuries are a source of woe for many golfers which can in many cases lead to ongoing problems and the end of a career, lest we mention a certain Tiger Woods. Having gone through the gauntlet with disc and nerve problems over the past several years recently announcing he may indeed be forced to hang up the bag.

Disc Injuries come in two main forms, a bulging disc or a herniated disc. In the case of a bulging disc, this tends to happen over an extended period of time. Usually caused by a constant repetitive motion or poor posture over a long time-period, the disc begins to swell and extend beyond its regular position through gaps the vertebrae.   

A bulging disc can often result in no symptoms, though the affected disc can in time become herniated. Another source of pain may be if the disc puts pressure on a nearby nerve, leading to a pinched nerve. Symptoms of such an injury could be a tingling sensation in the neck, shoulders, arms or fingers; a radiating back pain or in some cases, muscle spasms. As well as Tiger, Steve Stricker and several others have underwent surgery for bulging disks in recent years. Padraig Harrington also underwent surgery this year to relieve a trapped nerve.

Typically a bulging disc can result in a lengthy lay-off period of several months as is shown in the case of Lee Trevino who endured a 15-month absence from the game.

Herniated Discs

Herniated discs, otherwise known as slipped or ruptured discs occur when part of the nucleus (central section) of a disc, pierces through the outer layer of the disc, toward the spinal canal. This pressurizes the highly-sensitive nerves in the area which can cause varying symptoms from severe pain and numbness to weakness in surrounding body parts.

Again, herniated discs may be caused by excessive lower back pressures or repetitive motions commonly found in sports such as golf. Age may also play a role. Studies show that the prevalence of herniated discs increases as we age, likely due to wear and tear.

While some such as Brian Smock, may feel they are capable of playing through the pain barrier, typically a herniated disc can result in a layoff anywhere from several weeks to several months depending on severity.

Back Injury Treatments

Typical treatments for a back strain will quite often be simple and could include options such as over the counter or anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation and help minimize pain. Icing the affected area can also help reduce swelling. A little later after the injury, heat packs can be applied to help encourage blood circulation and increase flexibility in the area. Massage treatment and other exercises such as the knee to chest stretch (Pictured) can also prove very beneficial.

Because a high percentage of bulging discs do not present any symptoms, they are often not treated until they have become herniated or caused pinched nerves. In those cases, often massage, stretching and basic medications can be enough to resolve the issue. In some more serious cases, a discectomy may be recommended. This is however rare and most commonly reserved as treatment for a herniated disc.

Often performed as a micro-discectomy on a herniated disc, the procedure is minimally invasive and involves the removal of the whole or piece of the herniated disc which is causing the nerve trouble. Depending on location, a small piece of vertebrae bone may also be removed during surgery. It has been shown that surgical options for herniated disk pain offer faster and more effective results than conservative treatment methods.

Braces to Assist Recovery

Rigid Braces

Rigid back braces are most commonly worn in the immediate aftermath of serious back surgery, such as discectomies. They can be very helpful in limiting movement of the recovering area. This in turn maintains a good posture which promotes a speedy and high quality healing process, reducing the risk of recurrence.

These may often consist of two plastic panels, covered with a comfortable fabric for either heating or icing and generally attached around the lower back area of the patient, forming a rigid but workable protective layer around the area. 

Although they limit patient movement, sometimes up to 50% and can be uncomfortable at the outset, they are highly recommended post-surgery. The LSO Spine Stabilization Brace is a popular and well received choice in this area.

Corset Braces

Corset braces offer a more comfortable, everyday option for back pain and protection against disc herniation. They offer greater flexibility to the wearing to continue daily tasks unhindered, yet still provide a great degree of protection to injured areas. They are a good choice to assist with correcting posture to prevent from back injury or indeed to promote recovery and prevent from re-injury.

Often, these consist of cotton or nylon fabric which can be laced up or strapped on using Velcro straps around the lower back region, on some occasions they may also be held up with the use of shoulder straps.

In terms of these braces, the Mueller 255 offer a comfortable and lightweight choice which has been favored by those who want to continue their routine daily life without worry or fear of back pain and injury.

Conclusion

After our in-depth look, we can see that in golf, back injuries are a constant issue which players must contend with in order to have a long and successful career. In our routine lives, we can also note the high occurrence of such injuries.

Given these facts, we should prepare ourselves in the best ways possible to avoid back injuries by keeping correct posture whenever possible and following health and safety guidelines when lifting heavy items. These are areas we often neglect due to the fact they may not be immediately obvious. However, as we can see, the likelihood of back injury increases quickly with age, therefore, we need to keep in mind our long-term condition.

In the unfortunate event of sustaining an injury, we can also see that that there are a number of treatment options available, many of which are non-surgical and simple to follow which can help reduce or eliminate our pain.

As always, prevention is better than cure. For that reason, take your time to peruse our other helpful articles and items on how to stay injury free and lead a healthy lifestyle.

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