Stop Doing This 1 Mistake To Stop Back Pain While Deadlifting
Nov 23, 2021
Deadlifting is good for back pain
Yes, you read that right. Deadlifting should NOT cause back pain. Deadlifting is good for back pain. Deadlifting makes our body stronger and more resilient. So deadlifting is not only good for back pain that you are experiencing right now but also good to decrease the risk of pain in the future.
So why do people always tell me that their back hurts after deadlifting? Is pain while deadlifting normal and to be expected?
Here are 2 things I hear from both beginner and expert athletes:
- "I just expect pain in my back after deadlifting. I just push through it."
- "If you don't have a little low back pain after deadlifting you aren't doing it right." (Yes, I was actually told that by a trainer.)
ANOTHER post about deadlifts???
Yes, and I'll keep putting these out whenever someone else tells me that deadlifting is bad or is supposed to cause low back discomfort.
I can go on and on about the benefits of deadlifting, but if you don't know the cause of back pain after deadlifting you won't be able to correct the problem and gain the benefits.
Go on an Instagram or YouTube journey and watch people deadlift. Or just look around your gym. You'll see a very common movement fault. At the top of the deadlift, when standing all the way up, most people like to do an extra "UMPHH".
What is that "UMPHH"?
It is that extra low back extension when trying to stand up nice and tall. Often, it is unnoticeable to the athlete, but just feels like they are finishing off strong and stable.
But it is more than that. That extra low back extension is a problematic movement and the single most common cause of low back pain while deadlifting.
4 reasons deadlifting causes low back pain
There are 4 reasons that the extra low back extension (that "UMPHH" movement) is bad. The 4 reasons can be divided into 2 sections - bone-on-bone stability and muscle hyperactivity.
The first reason that the extra "UMPHH" movement is bad is bone-on-bone irritation. What do we mean by this? Watch the video, the explanation is easier to be watched than read. But put very briefly - as we extend our spine, the space between the vertebra closes. The bones come closer together and can cause irritation.
We get into this position for 2 reasons:
- Searching For Stability. The body wants stability, especially when we are lifting heavy weight. If there is no stability from the muscles, the body searches for stability and finds it at the end range of the passive tissues. In this case, the bones "rest" on each other in the back of the spine and the ligaments in the front of the spine are taut. These structures are now under an abnormal load. Yes, this causes stability but at the cost of the bone and ligament health.
- Compensation for limited hip extension mobility. We want to stand up straight; when the body senses that center of gravity is too far forward, it will shift it back. Whatever the cost. So when the hips don't want to straighten all the way because of a mobility restriction, something will take over. In this case, the low back moves into a hyperextended position. Again, too much extension causes that bone-on-bone compression and irritation.
Reason #2 that the extra "UMPPH" movement is bad is muscle hyperactivation. The low back is not meant to pick up a lot of weight - we have other, large muscles for that. But there are 2 reasons the back does too much lifting.
- Compensation for hip extension control. Hip extension is a very powerful movement. The hamstrings and gluteal muscle groups are large and powerful and should be the primary movers during the deadlift movement. However, at times these muscles don't want to cooperate and lift their share. When this happens, something needs to take over. In this case, it is the low back. Once the hip stops extending the low back takes over. Typically, this happens throughout the full range of motion but is most notable at the top of the deadlift.
- Stabilizers as movers. Ok, so separating these two is kind of challenging because #1 leads to #2. But it is extremely important to understand both of these two points. The low back muscles stabilize the spine; during a deadlift, they should do very minimal if any movement. So when the low back has to compensate for lacking hip control, it now has to be a mover. But its primary job is to stabilize the spine, so it now has 2 jobs. The stabilizer now has to be a mover. Too many jobs results in confusion and overuse.
The fix for low back pain while deadlifting
It really is a simple fix if you understand the cause.
Find the cause, and fix that cause. The cause is too much low back movement; the fix is to stop that movement.
The exercise shown in this video is my favorite way to correct low back control during a deadlift. It is a very simple exercise to understand but can be progressed in nearly unlimited ways. The key is to focus on pulling the band without arching the back. Just drive forward through the hips.
But unfortunately, sometimes the discomfort is too much and limits the amount of change we can make. Or maybe you want to be completely certain of the cause before venturing out on your own.
If that is the case, Schedule a Physio Eval to be certain. In that eval we will start on the NorCal Physio Process.
- Evaluate the problem and create a plan. Why does the low back hurt? Do you have limited hip mobility, spine stability, spine mobility? Or something entirely different? Let's evaluate your movement and mobility and create a plan to fix it.
- Alleviate the pain. Is the low back pain clouding our judgement? Let's clear that up and get a crystal clear view of the problem.
- Fix the underlying cause. Pain will come back and performance will continue to suffer unless you fix the underlying problem. Our eval showed us what is wrong, so we fix that problem.
- Plan for the future. You're going to return to deadlifting, but first make sure you have a good warmup, accessory exercises, and pain relief techniques if it comes back.