If I had a nickel for every time someone mentioned their lower back hurting to me, I would have around four or five dollars. This may not sound like much, but by doing some simple elementary level math you will realize that this equates to an average of ninety people. This is actually a huge amount of people for only one person to hear about who are suffering with the exact same injury. Because lower back pain is so common, many people look for ways to help or prevent their back pain. One tool that can make all the difference in the world when done correctly is performing deadlifts. However if not performed correctly deadlifts can actually make your lower back pain worse. Here’s some tricks and tips to help you with your injuries, as well as how to decrease your deadlift lower back pain.
Lower back pain may not sound like that big of an issue, but the truth is it is one of the most prevalent injuries in America. Here are some facts on lower back pain, from the American Chiropractic Association.
- Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010.
- Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections.
- One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.
- Experts estimate that as much as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in their lives.
- Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic. This means they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer.
- Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain
These facts really show how serious of a problem it can be for people. However with a better understanding of back pain and how to prevent it, you can live a life free of back pain forever.
Where Does Low Back Pain Come From?
There are two types of back pain; acute and chronic. Acute is a short-acting back pain that comes on and goes away fairly quickly, where chronic back pain has a slower onset and affects activities of daily living for at least three months. Low back pain can stem from many different factors, and whether you have acute or chronic back pain determines the injury causing the pain as well as the degree of pain felt. The pain could derive from a strained muscle, injured or herniated disc, pinched nerve, poor posture or simply overuse. There are also third party factors that can cause lower back pain such as scoliosis or stenosis. In addition to this, there is also some research that says genetics may play a role in lower back pain. Whatever the reason is, deadlifts can help reverse your back pain if done correctly. This includes proper rehab and recovery if you have a serious lower back injury.
How Do Deadlifts Help With Low Back Pain?
Assuming you have no prior serious back injuries (meaning you cannot stand up straight without intense pain), deadlifts are a great tool for preventing lower back pain. The reason for this is that deadlifts strengthen your entire posterior chain. Your posterior chain is the entire group of muscles on the posterior side of your body. This includes your hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, rear deltoids, trapezius, and your entire back. These muscles are constantly being used throughout your everyday life, so keeping all of these muscles strong and healthy is a huge key to relieving and preventing back pain. All of the posterior chain muscles can affect each other if any of them are altered or injured. For example, if a person has a weak upper back, often times as a result of this the lower back will be forced to carry the stress that the upper back could not handle. This is basically how back pain from overuse comes into play. When your entire posterior chain is strong however, all of the muscles are able to work together and there are no imbalances in strength that could lead to injury.
Although deadlifts are a great tool to relieve low back pain over time, there is more to the equation than just simply going to the gym and doing some deadlifts. Your programming and set and rep scheme must be adequate for your training level. This means you have a plan for the weight, reps and sets you want to perform so that you do not overtrain and hurt yourself. For an example of a basic deadlift program, check out our article on powerlifting deadlift workouts. In addition to this, it is important to get adequate recovery work such as foam rolling, stretching, and proper rest. With correct deadlift form and programming, you can fight and prevent lower back pain and improve your quality of life forever.
One other factor that plays a huge role in back pain is posture. Having good posture is often overlooked and not something that comes to mind for many, but research shows that good posture is vital for preventing back pain. Poor posture often comes from weak posterior chain muscles, so deadlifts can actually help improve your posture as well. For many people, having good posture takes conscious effort all of the time. If you deadlift regularly however, chances are this isn’t as much of a problem for you due to healthy muscles in the posterior chain.
Can Deadlifts Make Low Back Pain Worse?
If not done or programmed correctly, deadlifts can definitely hurt your lower back. Low back injuries are the second most common injury site for powerlifters, so obviously there is some risk involved. In my opinion, the key factors in determining if deadlifts will help or hurt you is your form and how you program your deadlifts into your training. Let me break these down a little further.
If deadlifts are done with crappy form, you run the risk of seriously hurting your lower back. The most common way to hurt your lower back by deadlifting is hitching your upper back. This means that your back starts to curl forward and your shoulders are pulled forward by the weight of the bar. This is very common for people who have weak upper backs, or who start the lift with the bar too far away from their body (to find out where the bar should be before the start of the lift, check out our proper sumo deadlift form article). Doing this puts all of the stress and the weight of the bar solely on your lower back, and also compresses the anterior portion of your spinal discs which puts you at risk for serious back injuries. In order to prevent this, I highly recommending taking some of the weight off the bar when you deadlift and using a weight you can perform with proper form. It would also be a good idea to focus on your upper back and rear deltoids with isolation exercises such as shrugs, upright rows, and reverse flies.
An opposite to rounding your back, hyper-extending your back when deadlifting is just as dangerous as rounding. This is especially common at the top of the deadlift. Many people hyper-extend their backs because they think it gets a better muscle contraction, or because it’s a “complete range of motion” for a competition deadlift. In reality, a complete deadlift only requires that the torso be in line with the hips and thighs, or simply a neutral spine. Leaning back will only compress the posterior portion of your spinal discs which will increase your risk for back injuries. To prevent yourself from hyper-extending, it is important to set up before your deadlift with a neutral lower back and maintain that position throughout the whole lift.
The way you program deadlifts into your training can also play a role in the risk of causing low back pain. For example, doing deadlifts one day and squatting on the next day is probably a bad idea because these are both full body compound lifts and require strength and stability of the lower back to perform successfully. A better idea would be splitting up your deadlifts and squats and maybe scheduling a rest day around your deadlift day to let your body recover properly. Another example is the number of exercises and the amount of volume you do on your days you deadlift. If you are doing conventional deadlifts, stiff-leg deadlifts, rack pulls and good mornings all in the same day, chances are after awhile you may overtrain yourself. Unless you are very in tune with your body and are smart about the weight, reps and sets you perform, I would not recommend this much volume for your lower back. If back pain is something you have or have had in your past, I would recommend slowly working your way up instead of jumping straight into things.
My Experience With Back Pain
I have had two back injuries in my lifting career. One was in the upper back and one was in the lower back, so I want to focus on my lower back injury. I was doing rack pulls and was doing a weight I probably should not have been messing around with. Midway through a set I ended up tweaking my lower back on the right side. I believe this happened because the bar was too far away from my body which forced more stress on my lower back.
The injury I had was not extremely serious, but the way I handled it made it worse than it was. I tried to ignore the pain and push past it. I continued to do many of the exercises that require strength and stability of the lower back regardless of my injury. This of course, only made it worse. I ended up having back pain for around three months from an injury that would have healed in two weeks had I been smart about my training. Although it is not popular opinion, I highly recommend giving yourself proper time to heal if you do suffer an injury of some kind. In the lifting community, many people are big on having a “no pain, no gain” mentality to their training. I think this is true to a degree, but to me this doesn’t mean pushing an injury to it’s limits. I believe training smart is just as important as training hard. If you have an injury, there are most likely many ways you can work around it and still train hard without making your injury any worse than it is.
In conclusion, deadlifts are a great tool to fight low back pain if used correctly. There are many factors that go into this, so it is important to do your research and listen to your body. I recommend reading the rest of our content, because we have all the information you need to deadlift safely and correctly.
If you have any questions or thoughts on lower back pain, feel free to comment below!