Golfing with Back Pain

Golf season is in full swing and that means many golfers will be dusting the cobwebs off their equipment and bodies to try to improve their handicap over the coming months. Unfortunately, many seasons are either derailed or completely interrupted by bouts of back pain that restrict movement and quality of play.

To learn more about the effects of back pain on golfing, I spoke with Dr. Anthony Bozzio, MD, from Bay Street Orthopedics. Dr. Bozzio is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in interventions for the spine. He treats patients in Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Cheboygan.

MYM: Around what age do golfers typically start to experience issues with their low back?

TB: Golf is a sport that is very hard the low back. I typically see patients in their 50's and 60s with low back pain with or without leg pain related to disc herniations and degenerative changes in the lumbar spine. Repetitive bending and twisting can lead to pain in the facet joints, disc degeneration and disc herniations. Back pain can occur at almost any age in golfers, and is most commonly related to mechanical sprain or strain. This commonly resolves over time and often with physical therapy. Most people can expect to improve within three months.

MYM: What are a couple of the more common pathologies that might impact someone's golf game? 

TB: The most common by far is mechanical back pain that is non-surgical. However, I do see a fair number of patients with disc herniations or spinal stenosis causing compression of nerves. This leads to leg pain, numbness, and weakness. Degenerative changes in the disc can also lead to both back pain and compression of the nerves as they exit the spinal canal. 

MYM: Can compensating for back pain cause issues in other areas of the body?

TB: This can definitely cause aches and pains in other areas of the body such as the shoulders or knees.

MYM: If a golfer has been experiencing pain that affects their swing, at what point should they see their doctor or specialist for assessment?

TB: I would recommend anyone with more than a couple months of lower back pain, or anyone with leg pain or weakness see their doctor. They may decide to start a course of physical therapy, or advanced imaging such as MRI and referral to a spinal surgeon for evaluation. 

MYM: What are a few treatments options that you offer to golfers with low back pain?

TB: Proper technique or perhaps changing their swing, core strengthening, and stretching are the key to preventing injuries and managing lower back pain. If the pain is worsening, it can be investigated further. There are options that include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, epidural injections, surgical decompression, and in some cases disc replacement or fusion. 

There have been several professional golfers who have undergone surgery and returned to play, but recently Tiger Woods is a great example of a golfer with lower back pain and leg pain who failed numerous conservative measures, failed non-fusion surgical attempts, and ultimately underwent anterior lumbar fusion to both decompress the nerves to relieve leg pain, as well as fuse a single level to relieve back pain. He’s back on the course now and time will tell how his performance is impacted or improved by the surgery.

Jeff Samyn is a Physical Therapist, board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center in Petoskey. He can be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This information is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.