Back pain in golf…. Something I help my clients with every day and is usually totally avoidable. Unfortunately most golfers have back injuries at some point during their lives. This blog post is dedicated to trying to help you avoid back pain and improve your swing, read on!
One major muscle group responsible for poor posture and back pain in golfers is the Hip Flexor muscle group. Most golfers don’t realize that the hip flexor is made of of 3 muscles; the psoas, the illiacus and the rectus femoris muscles. Together they flex the hip, which results in bending at the waist. So, every time you set up over a golf ball you are using your hip flexors to maintain golf posture. As I am sure you are sitting there reading this right now thinking…. ok, I use that muscle group a lot! The Psoas muscle is generally the major culprit in creating back pain. It originates on the front of the lumbar spine (low back) and inserts on the front of the hip. Tightness in this muscle group can lead to swing flaws like loss of posture, swaying or sliding and not finishing your swing.
So…..isn’t that a good thing???? Normally, it is but when people develop tightness in those muscles it creates a pulling force on the low back instead of a supporting force and over time starts to create pain. Hip flexor tightness makes it impossible to perform a posterior tilt of the pelvis and traps your low back into a permanently arched position (lordotic). Why should you care??? Well, being able to posteriorly tilt your pelvis is an essential component to a healthy golf swing. Tilting the pelvis posteriorly allows your low back (lumbar spine) to be more stable and requires your lower abdominal musles to contract, which adds stability and power to your swing. All good things! Less pain, more consistent posture and more power!!!
Ok so how did they get tight? This is something I have thought about way too much over the last 15 years as a Physical Therapist and golf trainer. My theory is that it happens for two reasons. The first is the dreaded chair! Most of us sit way too much these days. When you sit in a chair your hip flexors naturally shorten, over years of working and couch surfing (sitting on the couch watching tv or reading) the hip flexor muscle group begins to get incredibly tight. The second is the incredible amount of walking we do as golfers, over 5 miles per round, will make your muscles tight unless you spend some time stretching and using the foam roller/spikey ball after your round. In my experience as a Physical Therapist this is something golfers rarely do. Hard to avoid working and walking right! This is a phenomena that I have noticed developing in my junior golfers as well and seems to start around 4th or 5th grade as kids are going through growth spurts and sitting for long periods of time at school and playing video games.
Now that we know what the hip flexor is and how it can impact the golf swing, what can we do to fix it? Foam roller and spikey ball work on the front of the hip can really help but this article is going to focus on an exercise that stretches the muscle. Put a pillow on the ground or roll up a mat. Kneel on the pillow with your right knee down on the ground and your left leg in front with your hip and knee bent at 90 degrees. Actively pull your stomach in to stabilize you low back, place your hands on the front of your right hip and slowly slide forward so your weight goes over your forward foot. You should feel a stretch under your hands, hold for 1-2 min then switch sides (If the first version is easy try grasping your right foot with your right hand). Remember to keep your chest up and facing forward, it is easy to allow the tightness in your hip flexors pull your chest down during the stretch. Check out this video on my YouTube channel MPowerPhysTherapy