Back pain after playing golf

Golfers tend to be at risk of sustaining a slipped disc.
Golfers tend to be at risk of sustaining a slipped disc.PHOTO: REUTERS

Q I am an avid golfer. However, I suffer pain on the right side of my back after each game.

Is it due to a spinal or muscular problem? Are there any medications that can easethe pain?

If the condition worsens, what possible treatments can solve the problem so that I can continue to play golf?

A Your problem is probably related to the intervertebral disc in the spine rather than the muscles.

You are likely to be suffering from an annular tear or a herniated disc which, in layman terms, is known as a slipped disc. This occurs when the outer lining of the disc tears in response to overuse, age-related wear and tear or injury, to name a few causes.

This condition is also more likely to affect golfers as this sport imposes a loading and rotatory force on the spinal disc - such as when swinging a golf club at high speed - which may tear its outer fibres.

When this happens, you will experience a sharp pain. The tear also allows contents from the inner part of the disc to leak out from the centre of the disc (herniate).

Leakage of the inner contents of the disc, which is a gel-like substance, causes back pain when you sit for a prolonged period of time, change posture and cough.

In severe cases, it can lead to nerve and spinal cord compression, with pain and numbness in the legs. One may even suffer from paralysis and loss of bladder control, though such catastrophic consequences are rare.

Medication, such as painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents, can ease your pain.

You should get plenty of rest; applying hot packs to the painful area may help as well.

Other treatments which can help you feel better include physiotherapy, chiropractic treatment, acupuncture and deep massage.

You should seek help from your family physician who may refer you to a specialist to assess you further and confirm the diagnosis. He can then offer you more effective and targeted treatment.

There are several treatments for a slipped disc.

Spinal injections deliver an anti-inflammatory agent to the area which is inflamed and painful.

Another method is radio-frequency ablation of the disc, which is a minimally invasive procedure that uses radio-frequency energy to lower the pressure inside the disc.

This is done under anaesthesia. A radio-frequency probe is guided into the centre of the disc

with the help of X-ray technology. The radio-frequency energy causes the central filling of the disc to shrink, decreasing the internal pressure.

Keyhole surgery can also be performed to remove bone spurs or disc fragments that are compressing on the nerve and spinal cord.

These treatments are done by specialists, and are generally safe and effective.

They can help to get you back to your normal level of functioning and resume the activities that you want to do.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'Back pain after playing golf'. Print Edition | Subscribe