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Tiger Woods’ Back Pain

Tiger Woods was in his final round at The Barclays, undoubtedly within distance of the lead, when he dropped in pain to the green. The moment of gripping pain followed his second shot on the par-5 13th, and onlookers wondered if he would even be able to finish the back nine. The pro-golfer gingerly finished The Barclays, resulting in a tie for second place.

Whether Tiger could have forced a play-off without his lowerback pain (LBP) is a question unknown, but he will not risk further injury by playing a previously scheduled philanthropic golf event before the second round of the FedEx Cup playoff tournament.

What caught my attention is that Woods deemed traveling and sleeping in soft hotel beds as the culprit of his back spasms, versus playing the sport for years professionally. It is true that you may be able to prevent back pain by investing in a medium-firm mattress, as illustrated by a Spanish study in The Lancet. However, one of the most common golf injuries is low back pain, typically due to muscle strains and sprains, or disk related injury. This is because the rotational twisting force during the golf swing can put excess strain on the spinal disc and joints.

In my professional opinion, there may be a larger issue at play with Woods, who holds the title for No. 1 golfer in the world and remains one of the highest-paid athletes. Having treated both nationally ranked and amateur golfers, there are a few common injury patterns I have seen:

  • Disc injuries/herniated disc: can occur from swinging abnormalities and excess rotation, particularly if the player has poor core strength
  • Muscle strains: can occur after rough or powerful golf swings or a sudden shift during the downswing
  • Arthritic changes: can occur in the older golfer due to wear and tear

The important thing to note for disc injuries is that there is often a pre-existing disc lesion that is aggravated by golf. Stretching and proper trunk conditioning can protect against these injuries. While Tiger is saying that he should hypothetically be ready by his next tournament, he goes on to add, “I’m not feeling my best right now.” I wish Tiger the best of luck in the FedEx Cup, but in the meantime, would advise that he sees an orthopaedic physician to make sure his condition does not worsen.