Lower back pain and stiffness caused by arthritis can make golfing challenging.
The twisting motion required for the full golf swing puts considerable stress on the lumbar spine and sacroiliac joints.
However, with proper care and some adaptations, you can modify your game to accommodate back arthritis.
Understanding Lower Back Arthritis
Arthritis affecting the lower spine and sacroiliac joints often develops gradually from aging, repetitive strain, or previous injury.
Lower back arthritis symptoms include:
- Aching pain, soreness, tightness in the lumbar region
- Stiffness and reduced flexibility bending forward or twisting
- Sharp pain with certain movements like swinging a golf club
- General weakness and fatigue in the low back
Types of Lower Back Arthritis
Some common forms of back arthritis in golfers are:
- Degenerative disc disease – breakdown of spinal discs causing bone spurs and narrowing
- Facet joint arthritis – wears away the cartilage covering the joint surfaces
- Sacroiliac joint arthritis – inflammation where the sacrum meets the pelvis
- Spondylolisthesis – vertebral slippage placing pressure on nerves
Challenges in Golfing
The rotational golf swing places substantial torque on the lumbar spine and SI joints.
Painful Back Movements
Arthritic lower back discomfort often worsens performing motions like:
- Rotating shoulders away from target in the backswing
- Twisting forcefully into the downswing
- Extending the spine on contact impact
- Quickly rotating through the follow-through
Compromised Power and Control
Limited mobility from back arthritis inhibits:
- Achieving full shoulder turn in the backswing
- Generating maximum clubhead speed in the downswing
- Maintaining a steady head and spine angle during the swing
- Shaping shots by controlling body rotation
Aggravated by Walking
Carrying golf bags long distances and walking 18 holes exacerbates lower back arthritis pain and tiredness.
Adapting Your Game with Lower Back Arthritis
While challenging, you can tailor your play to accommodate your back arthritis.
Modify Your Swing Technique
Making some alterations to your swing mechanics can help avoid aggravating your lower back arthritis:
- Restricting your shoulder turn during the backswing reduces the amount of rotational force through your lumbar spine. Taking the club back in a straight line as opposed to fully winding shoulders around limits torsional strain.
- Rely more on your arms and wrists to power the club, rather than generating force from your trunk rotation. Keeping your torso quieter decreases torque on arthritic facet joints and discs.
- Use a smooth, flowing tempo rather than an aggressive, jerky downswing. Sudden acceleration twists your spine forcefully at impact. A controlled swing pace puts less load on the back.
- Develop core abdominal and back extensor strength to better support and stabilize your spine throughout the motions. Stronger muscular support reduces forces on the arthritic joints.
Use Back Supports
Wearing supportive braces and taping can assist an arthritic lower back:
- Custom fitted lower back braces restrict painful spinal motions while allowing other movements. They provide helpful stabilization during play.
- Kinesiology tape applied in a paraspinal pattern over erector spinae muscles can increase muscle support and take pressure off inflamed joints.
- Therapeutic heat wraps around the lower back region help loosen up tight, painful muscles prior to teeing off. This allows greater mobility when swinging.
Alter Your Golf Equipment
Subtle equipment adjustments also make the golf swing more comfortable on an arthritic lower back:
- Using lightweight graphite shafted clubs instead of heavy steel irons and woods reduces the force needed to swing the club, decreasing spinal loading.
- Trying clubs with oversized grips enables a looser handhold with less grip pressure, alleviating the need for excessive back effort to control the club during the swing.
With some experimentation to find the right adaptations, you can tailor your golf game in a joint-protective manner to accommodate your specific lower back arthritis challenges.
A teaching pro well-versed in senior/adaptive methods can provide valuable personalized recommendations on adjusting your swing, gear, and more to golf comfortably.
Treatment Options for Lower Back Arthritis
Beyond adjusting your swing and equipment, treatment can ease arthritis back discomfort.
- Oral NSAIDs like naproxen and ibuprofen reduce inflammation
- Muscle relaxants relieve painful muscle spasms around spine
- Some patients get relief from opioid pain medications
- Strengthening exercises for core and lower back
- Stretching hips, hamstrings, and spine
- Postural training to reinforce proper spinal alignment
- Massage, heat, ice, electrical stimulation for pain
- Epidural steroid injections deliver anti-inflammatory corticosteroid around irritated spinal nerves
- Facet joint injections block painful arthritic joint nerves
- Acupuncture can relieve lower back arthritis symptoms
- Spinal manipulation from a chiropractor or osteopath
- Mindfulness, meditation help patients cope with chronic back pain
Preventing Further Progression
While arthritis can’t be cured, you can slow its advancement by:
- Maintaining ideal weight to avoid overloading joints
- Building core, glute, and leg strength to support spine
- Using proper lifting techniques for golf bags and equipment
- Avoiding high-impact activities that jar the spine
- Listening to your body and stopping activity when lower back hurts
- Getting regular massages to loosen tight muscles around spine
With the proper swing adjustments, supportive gear, treatment modalities, and preventive care, lower back arthritis does not have to put an end to your golfing.
Work closely with your doctor, physical therapist, and golf pro to build a customized plan allowing you to enjoy the game pain-free.