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Can He Play in the Masters? What Can We Learn From Tiger Woods’ Lower Back Pain?

Will Tiger's back woes keep him out of the Masters?
Will Tiger's back woes keep him out of the Masters?

When Tiger Woods has lower back pain, every golfer gets a twinge.

After all, if the USA’s number one ranked player is worried about starting in next month’s Masters, what does that say about the risk of similar injury to America’s 25 million amateur golfers, many of them a lot older than Tiger who’s just 38?

Tiger’s travails are a reminder that golf, despite its apparently leisurely pace, puts a lot of wear and tear on the anatomy as the body twists and turns to strike the ball.

While weekend duffers aren’t subject to the same stresses as golfers on the professional tour, their struggles with injury offer lessons that can help keep the rest of us in the game.

Eight-time PGA Champion Fred Funk plays on the senior circuit. After 30 years of professional golf, his back has taken a real beating. One way he fights the pain is using natural treatments that have helped get him off of addictive painkillers.

“To play well your whole body has to be working. If you’re not in shape you won’t be able to hit the ball properly and you’re more likely to hurt yourself,” says Funk.

Sports medicine specialists have studied the golf swing in detail and they’ve found some underlying factors that can lead to lower back pain.

According to one longtime trainer, golf injuries result mostly from “microtrauma” –-accumulated abuse from poor technique in amateurs and overuse in elite golfers. In other words an “over the top” downswing puts too much torque on the spine, as well as the lead knee, the elbows and the wrist.

Today’s pro-style golf swing requires a big shoulder turn against a limited hip swing with resistance against the trunk. Bottom line: you need to have stability and mobility with the two countervailing forces upping the risk of injury.

Another study found that lower back pain in pro golfers was associated with too little hip rotation and over extending the back muscles. Lower back injuries afflict some up to one-third of pro golfers, just behind infirmities of the hand and the wrist.

Before you head back to the clubhouse, there are some things you can do to keep your back up to par:

  • If you’re concerned you might have some back issues, check with your doctor before you get on the course.
  • A vigorous warm-up before you tee off can loosen up your joints and muscles.
  • Follow a reasonable cardiovascular exercise program so you’ll have sufficient strength to walk eighteen holes.
  • Since poor technique is directly correlated to back issues, a couple of lessons may be in order.
  • If you are in pain, there are many options without resorting to addicting painkillers. Natural treatments and non-steroidal drugs can stop the hurt.

Interestingly, one study of trainee professional golfers found that players with a higher body mass were less susceptible to injury than leaner golfers. This may be due to a protective effect from more tissue. However, any strategy that involves gaining weight has risks as well as benefits.

Whether you’re a pro like Tiger or a weekend warrior, planning and prevention will get you on the leader board.

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