Getting Your Golf Game Back After Spine Surgery

Starting slowly is the name of the (golf) game

If you’ve had spine surgery, you may wonder when you can do the activities you love—and for many, that’s playing a round of golf. While you may be eager to experience the natural beauty of a fresh cut fairway and the competitive camaraderie of a day on the course, you can re-aggravate your back or neck injury if you don’t follow certain guidelines for getting back in the game.
Two men enjoying a game of golf.You can re-aggravate your back or neck injury if you don’t follow certain guidelines for getting back in the game. Photo Source:

Golfing After Spine Surgery: When and How?
The first question many patients ask regarding golf is ‘When can I get back on the course?’ In general, if you had a simple lumbar discectomy or a cervical procedure, you may golf again in about six weeks. If you underwent a lumbar fusion, you may be braced for three months, so the return is delayed to that time.

Regardless of the type of surgery, I first recommend physical therapy before returning to the short and medium game. The point is to gradually get back in the game as opposed to jumping into a full 18 holes.

By three months after surgery (or longer if you’ve had a lumbar fusion), you may typically return to your long game. The reason I suggest tee offs last is the tee shot is the most demanding on your back—a strong swing can put a lot of pressure on your facet joints and low back. When you are ready for tee shots, hold back on the power of your stroke (for example, give 5% instead of 100% of your energy).

Golf involves bending and twisting, motions that impact all areas of your spine. Before playing a full round, perhaps spend some time at the putting green or driving range (again, not going full force while teeing off). I typically recommend patients golf no more than twice a week initially after the completion of their recovery period.

Game-day Details: Caddies, Carts, Weather, and Beverages
When you’re ready to take on your first full golf game after spine surgery, you can protect your neck or back with some simple tips.

Use a cart or caddie
While walking is good for your surgery recovery, mobility may be an issue initially. Use a golf cart until your energy levels return and stamina improves. Also, carrying golf clubs after spine surgery should be avoided for at least three months, so consider investing in a cart or caddie.

Rain is a no-go
Weather always plays a role in a golf game, though those recovering from back or neck surgery need to take extra care. The biggest enemy of spine surgery recovery is falling, and that should be avoided at all costs. Do not golf if it’s wet outside. 

Nix the alcohol if you’re on pain pills
You may prefer an alcoholic beverage with your golf game, but drinking after spine surgery comes with major safety risks. Alcohol and pain pills don’t mix, so avoid alcohol if you’re on pain medication. Also, excessive alcohol consumption (even without spine surgery) can be dangerous when driving a golf cart. Lastly, alcohol increases your risk of falling, which could reaggravate your neck or back injury

To prevent these events while still acknowledging personal preferences, I tell my patients they may have a few drinks in moderation if they are not taking pain pills.

When in Doubt, Take It Slow
As you begin golfing again, don’t just focus on your stroke—listen to your body. The main red flag to watch out for when golfing after spine surgery is pain. If your back or neck hurts, don’t ignore it. Give yourself the rest you need before golfing again.

The transition back to a full game of golf should be done slowly and thoughtfully after a spine procedure. With a little patience and some adjustments, you’ll soon regain the enjoyment of a day spent on the golf course.

Updated on: 08/27/19
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