Is carrying my golf bag bad for my back?

Me, my bag and my current favourite golfing outfit

Jan is worried about my back

“Your back may be fine now, but wait until you’re older. You really should get a trolley”, Jan said.

I was pretty sure that carrying my bag wasn’t a problem, however, Jan isn’t always wrong and I do intend to play golf as long as possible, so I thought I’d investigate. I sent a GP, a sports therapist and a physiotherapist the following email:

Could you tell me if you think carrying a bag of clubs while playing golf (mine is around 11 kg) is good or bad, and explain why? I’m getting conflicting views on it. Some say it makes your back stronger, others that it speeds up wear and tear and squishes my discs. I’m worried that I’ll end up with big problems in a few years.

What the health professionals think

Physio: “Looking at the way you carry your bag, I don’t see a problem at all. You always use the straps over both shoulders. There is an 85 year old at Haywards Heath golf club who has always carried and never suffered any pain. Those who are predisposed to spinal problems will suffer and could damage themselves. To carry you must have excellent straps and don’t overload.”

GP: “I don’t think 11 kg is that big a weight to carry on your back, but it depends how you carry it. If it’s slung over one shoulder, you risk shoulder problems and muscular back pain from an uneven load. The general recommendation for people in good health is that they should be able to carry 20% of their body weight.”

Sports therapist: “I agree with Anna (GP) that 11 kg is no weight at all IF carried evenly. Use shoulder straps and do not carry over one shoulder only. The main thing to be aware of is maintaining good posture: upper back extended, leading from the chest, not hunched over. The weight of the bag must be distributed evenly, so be aware of how you pack your bag too.”

A study on the impact of carrying weight on spinal loads

I also did a search on the Internet and found a study on carrying and spine loading. It’s very academic and complex, but its conclusion is straightforward (one of the weights tested happened to be 11 kg):

Carrying weights increases spinal loads. The loads on a telemeterised VBR were measured in five patients carrying weights in different ways. Holding a weight in front of the body strongly increased the force, while carrying it in a backpack led to only a minor load increase.

Conclusion: carrying my bag is ok for now
Strengthening my back

It looks easy, but that ball is very heavy

So there you have it. I’m sure carrying a golf bag isn’t ideal for some people, but I’ve been doing it for five years with no apparent problems, so it’s probably ok for me. Also, I do a lot of exercise that strengthens my back. I play football, I recently ran a half-marathon and I go soldiering three times a week with my British Military Fitness crew. We do all sorts of strengthening exercises for the whole body, including the back. A decent level of fitness, good posture and an even load on the back should keep me going. I will just have to put up with Jan tutting at me.