The Ever Mysterious Pain In The Back

DALTON, GEORGIA | He swore he felt fine. But that didn’t slow the avalanche of scrutiny. After withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open with a bad back, Phil Mickelson didn’t commit to defend his title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open until late Wednesday afternoon, and only then after he’d flown 3,961 miles back and forth to this small Georgia town to visit back specialist Tom Boers. So, it was understandable that Mickelson couldn’t put a tee in the ground without attracting attention. For golfers, a back injury is greater than the average repetitive motion ache or pain. It is leprosy, malaria and hepatitis C. Back pain is the dark shadow in the basement, the bump in the night, the ringing phone at 3 a.m. It is fear; it is dread; it is doom.
That cattle-prod shock to the lumbar is far more serious for a golfer than the ACL or Achilles tear is to the football or basketball player. Modern medicine has built a road to recovery for those maladies, just as pitchers needn’t fear Tommy John surgery anymore. But back pain remains a medical mystery, one that will send golfers lying around the globe looking for a cure. Just as Ben Hogan once said, “It’s not the hook that kills you, it’s the fear of hitting it,” any golfer who has prayed for the searing pain to ease enough for him to walk again will tell you: It’s not the back spasms that get you, it’s the fear of when they will return. “Oh, they will return, or at least there is a high likelihood that they will return,” Boers said from his clinic in Dalton, a place where the walls are adorned with memorabilia from the scores of Tour players he has helped through the decades. Boers has been working with athletes for almost 40 years, studying the spine and developing treatments for pain.


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