Why Golfers Have Low Back Pain

By: Shawn Kennedy B.S.,C.S.C.S.

To really understand low back pain in golf, we need to look at the key compensation patterns that occur when someone attempts to activate their muscles. As I see so often, substituting low back extension for gluteal extension is the major culprit of low back pain in many of the golfers that I see. Correcting this pattern of dysfunction becomes the priority in my training program.

The problem is caused because the gluteus muscles have become weak and inhibited and the psoases (hip flexors) have become tight. This pattern of dysfunction is referred to as a reciprocal inhibition or synergistic dominance. These dysfunctions occur anywhere in the body when a muscle is not being used or is being repetitively overused. This particular dysfunction is so common that it has been named “Lower-Crossed Syndrome”. It is an all too common problem seen in the majority of Americans today. A conditioned caused by constant sitting all day making the front of the hips (hip flexors) short and tight, while the back of the hips (glutes) long and weak. Soon the body forgets how to use its own gluteus muscles. This “gluteal amnesia” happens because our body will divert the neural signal intended for the gluteus muscle to a stronger muscle close by to do the job instead. In essence there is a roadblock in the neurological signal from the brain to the gluteus muscle.

Subsequently when you try to swing a golf club with inhibited gluteus muscles the neural signal skips right over the gluteus muscles and is sent to your surrounding back muscles. The gluteus muscles are the largest and most powerful muscles in the body and asking the low back muscles to do the job of the gluteus muscles during the golf swing will most certainly create an injury to the back due to overuse.

Proper strengthening of the gluteus and core muscles will be the best cure for this condition. In fact, we may not even be strengthening but just re-educating the neuromuscular system. In reality, most early strength gains are more neural than contractile. Meaning that your body learns how to recruit more of its muscle rather than actually growing more muscle. It takes about 6-8 weeks of a training program before muscle hypertrophy (growth) begins. It is extremely important that you are able to set the core muscles in the body to properly stabilize the spine and actually fire your gluteus muscles when training, otherwise you will just revert back to your normal pattern of using your back muscles instead of your gluteus muscles and perpetuate your problem further. It is recommended that initially you start in a supervised training program with a golf conditioning specialist. At least long enough to truly master the movements and gain good enough body awareness to safely perform the movements on your own.

Shawn Kennedy is owner of "Synergy Golf Performance", a company specializing in golf strength and conditioning. Kennedy has a B.S. in exercise science from Barry University, and is C.S.C.S. and T.P.I. level 1 certified.

Low back pain is problem suffered by many who play golf. As Mr. Kennedy shows, low back pain can be reduced and often eliminated by simple exercise.