Teed off with back pain?

Teed off with back pain?By Rob Vellosa

Do any of the swing faults outlined here look familiar? If so, the sooner you rectify the problem, the better. Get to grips with your posture to keep back problems at bay.

Low back pain is the number one injury complaint amongst amateur golfers worldwide, and can seriously affect performance and enjoyment.

Causes include:

  • poor technique
  • ill-fitting equipment
  • inadequate warm-up
  • muscle imbalances

To the left, the incorrect posture; to the right, the correct straight back position

Figure 1. To the left, the incorrect posture;
to the right, the correct straight back position.

Swing faults that bite back

Understanding these causes is the first step to prevention. Here we look at three common mistakes seen in the golf swing that can lead to low back pain, as well as reducing the power and accuracy of your shots.

Swing fault 1: the S-posture set-up

This is a common problem in the amateur golfer, affecting around 1 in 4 players. It happens when the player addresses the ball with the lower back in an excessively arched position, rather than with a straight back (Figure 1).

This may be due to a misunderstanding of what a strong set-up position is (how many times have you heard that you need to stick your bottom out during a golf lesson?). Equally, it may result from muscle imbalances that have developed over a period of time.

The problem is that this position actually stops some of the core muscles (the abdominals and the glutes) from being able to work properly, whilst overworking the smaller muscles of the lower back and the muscles at the front of your hip. Tightness in these overactive muscles will affect your ability to rotate and cause a poor position at the top of the backswing, known as a 'reverse spine angle', which is discussed below.

If you sit at a desk all day at work, this can often lead to a weakening of the abs and glutes and cause tightening of the hip muscles. So when you get home, try these two exercises to help:


Kneeling on all fours, arch your back up and then let your stomach sink towards the floor. Repeat 20 movements. This will help mobilise all the joints in your spine. Also try this in the changing room before heading for the tee.


Kneel with your right knee on the floor and your left foot forward. Keeping your spine neutral, and without rotating the pelvis, slowly lunge forward until you feel a stretch in the hip flexors. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times on each leg.

To the left, the incorrect posture; to the right, the correct straight back position

Figure 2. To the left, the correct spine angle;
to the right, the incorrect spine orientation.

Swing fault 2: reverse spine angle on backswing

At the top of the backswing the trunk should be leaning slightly away from the target. However, it is common to see the opposite in amateur golfers (around. 38%), and this is one of the major causes of low back pain (Figure 2).

The downswing should be initiated by the lower body, but this spinal position makes this impossible as, again, it stops the abdominal muscles from working. What you will then see is an upper-bodydominated swing, which will significantly reduce the power generated and put excessive tension through the lower back. To help prevent this, you need a stable core and a flexible trunk, so try this at home:


Stand in your golf stance, ensuring your spine is in a neutral position. Hold your arms out to the side. Rotate your upper body back and forth ensuring your lower body stays still. Continue for 1 minute. This is also a great warm-up exercise before stepping up to the first tee.

Lower back is hyperextended

Figure 3a. Lower back is hyperextended.

Excessive lean to the right adds to the problems

Figure 3b. Excessive lean to the right adds to the problems.

Swing fault 3: reverse 'C' finish on follow-through

Another swing fault that commonly leads to lower back pain is the reverse 'C' finish at the end of the followthrough. ou may think it looks great, but spare a thought for the small facet joints at the base of the spine on the right-hand side! For the right-handed golfer, the vast majority of pain is felt in this area of the back. This position (Figure 3a) shows hyperextension (or excessive backward arch) of the lower back with the trunk leaning away from the target.

This, combined with the lean to the right (Figure 3b) puts significant compressive and shear forces through these joints. Keep doing this repeatedly for 4 hours and you will start to understand why your back hurts. Weak glutes, a weak core, tight hip flexors on the trail leg and tight chest muscles can all cause the reverse 'C' to be a feature of your swing.

To strengthen your glutes and core, try these great routines daily:


Lie on your back with your knees bent. Draw in your abdomen and clench your buttocks. Lift your bottom, keeping both sides of your pelvis level and your spine in a neutral position. Straighten one leg and hold for 3 seconds. Lower your leg down and repeat on the opposite side. Lower your bottom down. Repeat 10 times each side. Progress with more repetitions or longer hold times, as you feel able.

Take action early!

Low back pain is the most common injury seen in amateur golf. By correcting some of the basic swing faults described, you can significantly reduce the chances that you will be another sufferer. Better to act now than wait until pain strikes. Try the suggested exercises and see for yourself remember, strengthen your core for a better score!


Lie on your front, resting on your forearms. Lift your hips so that your body forms a straight line. Lift one leg off the floor and hold for 3 seconds. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side. Repeat as many times as you can until you are no longer able to hold the position.


Rob Vellosa is a Titleist Performance Institute Certified Level 2 Medical Professional, and Founder of Ultimate Golf Physio (more information at www.mytpi.com).

Please contact Rob with your comments and queries:
Email: info@ultimategolfphysio.com

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Cockpit athletes
Feedback: Physio
Research Review: Volume 4

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