As Seen on ABC 7: Dr. Nguyen’s Tips to Avoid Golf Pain

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The sun is shining, temperatures are rising, and for many, it’s time to hit the golf course. Golf is a beloved sport, with nearly 25 million people participating every year. However, during this time of the summer, it often leads to pain and injuries. So, how can you ensure you stay in the game?

Dubbed by many as “The Golf Doctor,” I not only treat many golfers but am also a golfer which affords me a wealth of tips and tricks to share to keep you out of pain and enjoying your golf game. 

Why do golfers frequently experience back and neck pain? 

There are several reasons for this.  

  1. Overuse is a common cause. Playing 18 holes of golf, and sometimes even more frequently than once a week, involves repetitive motion such as swinging and twisting, which can strain the back and neck.
  2. Poor form contributes to the issue. The golf swing places the body in an unnatural position, making it prone to mistakes. If your form is not perfect each time, it puts your back at risk. Lastly, many golfers are what we call “weekend warriors” – they work in an office all week and then play 18 holes on one or two weekend days. If they don’t prepare properly, it can be hard on their bodies.

Let’s address these issues. What can be done to mitigate overuse in golf? 

Apart from playing 9 holes instead of 18, do you have any other recommendations? Certainly! A simple yet effective solution is stretching. While golf may appear to be a peaceful and slower game, it still requires stretching, just like you would before playing basketball or pickleball. Since golf involves using your body in unusual ways, it is important to stretch before and after you play a round. 

Some easy stretches I do myself include twisting from the waist, stretching the upper back in both directions, neck stretches, and bending to touch your toes. Additionally, any exercises that strengthen your body are beneficial. Personally, I find that yoga is a great low-impact way to build strength in your body, neck, and overall physique.

What about maintaining proper form to reduce pain on the golf course? How can golfers ensure their form is on par? 

There are a few common mistakes to avoid. Poor posture can lead to weak muscles, over-activation, or tightness in the lower back, so it’s crucial to be mindful of your posture during the game. “Over-swinging” puts excessive strain on the lumbar spine. The asymmetric nature of the golf swing adds stress to the lower back, potentially leading to serious issues over time. Taking lessons, watching instructional videos on platforms like YouTube, and having someone record your swing for analysis can all help you make small adjustments and improvements to your form.

What can the weekend warriors – the occasional golfer — do to prevent back strains, neck tweaks, and ending the game in pain? 

Carrying golf clubs for 18 holes can significantly strain the back and neck. While walking is excellent exercise, consider using a pull cart. There are many innovative electronic and remote-controlled carts available now. Additionally, pay attention to how you pick up the ball. It may sound trivial, but I’m amazed at how often I see people leaning straight over with one leg up or assuming positions that strain the back. The best tip is to bend at the knees when retrieving the ball or use your club to pull it over by your foot, thus avoiding excessive leaning.

Lastly, as a doctor, have you personally experienced pain or injury in your own golf game? What do you do to keep it at bay?

Similar to many others, I have unfortunately faced the challenge of low back pain, affecting my capacity to play golf. The primary source of my discomfort was diagnosed as my sacroiliac joint (SI), causing pain that radiated down my leg and into my buttocks, significantly hindering my ability to fully enjoy my favorite game. To get on the road to recovery, I began specialized physical therapy for my spine, which allowed me to return to the golf course. However, it was a gradual process that tested my patience. I was realistic with myself that if I rushed my recovery and returned to practicing my golf game prematurely, it could potentially lead to a more substantial setback. 

The moral of my personal story is to set yourself up for success. Put in the work at the gym, working on your strength and flexibilty to support the physical demands of your golf game. Secondly, listen to your body and know your limits. Making adjustments to your game or approach will benefit you (and your game) in the long run! 

Dr. Thomas Nguyen is a fellowship-trained pain specialist at Virginia Spine Institute. Named regionally as a Modern Luxury 2022 Top Doctor, and recognized nationally in the 70 Pain Management Physicians to Know, Dr. Nguyen is at the forefront of nonsurgical pain procedures. Dr. Nguyen performs regenerative medicine, natural healing therapies, for spinal conditions, joint and ligament injuries, and aesthetic enhancements.  These modern solutions include Stem Cell Therapy, Platelet-Rich-Plasma, and Prolotherapy. 

Learn more about Dr. Nguyen.

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