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Golf: Is Your Back Your Biggest Handicap?

dr david duffner

Dr. David Duffner

If your aching back is keeping you off the course, it doesn’t have to. Desert Health® recently spoke with Dr. David Duffner, orthopedic surgeon and medical director of Desert Regional Medical Center’s Institute of Clinical Orthopedics & Neurosciences (ICON) to determine what you should do if back pain is keeping you from the game you love.

What’s the right solution for back pain – keep moving or stop playing?

You have to keep moving. 20 to 30 years ago, doctors used to recommend staying in bed if you have a backache. Now we say, keep moving. Find out what you can do and keep doing it. If you lay immobile, you get de-conditioned, which will increase your back problems. But it’s important to work with qualified professionals who can help determine your condition and make solid recommendations on alterations to your normal activity and/or your golf swing. This may be your doctor, physical therapy, exercise trainer or qualified golf instructor.

How does one play with back pain?

All golfers know that the golf swing is really applied physics and the power in your swing comes from rotating your spine. The club head swing translates to velocity which translates to distance. If you have back problems, you need to figure out a ‘work around.’ If you can’t rotate the spine as much, learn a new swing which uses more of your arm motion. It won’t be as powerful because you won’t get the velocity. You may give up the distance, but you can still enjoy the game.

How do you help golfers with back pain management?

ICON’s approach to back pain puts surgery as a last resort. We work to identify the pain generator in the spine which is difficult because the brain has a very poor perception of the anatomic localization of pain in the spine. So it really takes an experienced clinician to get to the core issue. Once we know the pain generator, then we can determine treatment options. We usually start by getting the pain under control with a combination of medications, possibly injections, possible physical therapy and other physical modalities. And time. Most people will get over an acute backache, but if it becomes chronic, then we have to consider other strategies. If someone is significantly disabled, we then start thinking about surgical options to fix or improve their condition.

What is your best advice to avoid back pain?

Most people have inadequate core strength and the whole golf swing revolves around the core. You need to focus on strengthening the muscles of the trunk and as well as the shoulders. Stretching and rotation exercises are also important to maximize your swing potential. But work with what you are able to do and keep playing that game you love.

For further information and education on back pain, visit Dr. Duffner’s website at www.TotalOrtho.com. For a consultation, contact Desert Regional Medical Center’s Institute of Clinical Orthopedics & Neurosciences at 760.416.4511.

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