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Five Tips for Guns and Spine Pain

Five Tips for Guns and Spine Pain

Depending on where you get the statistics,  up to 45% of men and 25% of women own guns in the United States.  It is a Second Amendment right,  and I am not here to debate the merits and nuances of the Amendment.  As a spine surgeon however,  I do want to discuss a common complaint from gun owners.  That is spine pain.

From my own personal experience, I know proper form,  and proper gun fit (especially with rifles, shotguns) have significant bearing on the forces experienced by your body.

Here are 5 suggestions I have regarding Guns and Spine Pain:

1. Fitness is important.  Work on your core stabilization.  Specifically,  work on building your stomach and back muscles.  Good coordination of these muscles are necessary to minimize force effects on the spine.

2. Stretch before shooting.  Please consider the neck exercises and back exercises on our site.  A brisk walk, with stretching before hand will limber the muscles,  and prepare them for the recoil forces.

3. For beginners,  please use smaller caliber guns,  rifles, and shotguns.  The intimidation of the whole process makes for a muscle tension experience.  Add a significant recoil force  (larger caliber shots),  and you will be prone to greater injury.

4. Get lessons.  Only an instructor can show you the proper stance, and position for your gun.  First of all,  you need to understand  basic safety gun safety.  Then, an instructor can  make sure you are in the proper position to effectively,  and efficiently fire the gun.  That efficiency will mean you are in the proper form to minimize the forces of the gun.  That effectiveness will ensure reproducibility of the targeting,  so you understand the need to maintain the efficient stance and form.

Without proper instruction,  you will likely experience excessive forces,  and reduce your chances of hitting the target.

5. Get your Rifle/Shotgun fitted for your body.  While many people can use the rifle/shotgun off the shelf,  taller or shorter shooters usually need some adjustments to the gunstock.  As stated above,  the proper form and stance is very important to minimize the forces of the gun,  and therefore protect the spine.  The length of the gunstock can force a suboptimal position.  Your instructor, along with a gun smith may be necessary to define the ideal configuration of your rifle/shotgun.

A final thought is about the concept of disc herniations caused by the gun.  Unfortunately,  we probably will never know if that gun shot was the cause of the disk bulges as most of us,  after the age of 40 already have disc findings in our spine  (even though we do not even feel it).  If you have pre-existing spine pain, probably the best advice is to get an evaluation of your spine prior to shooting larger caliber rounds.   If you are a beginner, take lessons so you have proper stance and form.

Last modified: January 5, 2018

2 thoughts on “Five Tips for Guns and Spine Pain

  1. Dr. Shim,

    thanks for sharing your experience as an orthopedic spine surgeon on the topic of recoil while shooting (

    My friend Stanislaw and me we are shooter- / spotter-team in long-range shooting. We are shooting large caliber rifles like .338 Lapua, .416 Barret and .50 BMG in the German EuroCup team. Since shooting is not that popular in Germany the teams get no support. Stanislaw hat a lumbar discectomy outpatient spine surgery two weeks ago and now we are wondering if we will be able to do shooting as a team. Especially his wife is much concerned about him.

    My question is about shooting position. From your experience would you suggest him to shoot from prone-position (laying) or from a sitting position? Neither his doctor nor the physiotherapist could answer the question since the forces for recoil are unknown to them.

    I thank you in advance for taking your time to answer to me!

    Best wishes from Germany

    1. Thank you for the comments. Your rifles will have a far amount of recoil. Sitting is always the most stressful position on your back. If you have a choice, I would suggest starting with laying prone first.

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