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Deadlifts for back pain

Deadlifts The Ultimate Functional Movement

Deadlifts: The Ultimate Functional Movement for Lower-back Pain

By Andy on November 15, 2017


“Sorry, I can’t do deadlifts. I have low back pain so I need to avoid these kinds of exercises, especially with weight.”

This is a statement I’ve heard from clients MANY times over the years.  And as someone who has suffered from lower back pain, I’ve even said it myself.  The problem is:  it couldn’t be more wrong.

Lower back pain is caused by muscles and/or ligaments around the lower back being torn, which causes the rest of the muscles to spasm.  A bulging disc also increases the risk of torn muscles and ligaments around the lower back.  When the muscles in the back are in spasm, it’s very difficult to move in almost any direction.  And trust me, I know:  It can be scary!

But avoiding “weights”, and especially deadlifts is a recipe to guarantee the lower back pain will be around the rest of your life.  When I injured my back, I took off 6 months of training, particularly deadlifting, because I felt it would be dangerous.  But 6 months later, I was still in pain.  So I went in to speak to my physio.

“My back is still really bothering me, even tying my shoes is difficult.  But don’t worry,”  I proudly stated, “I’m careful and don’t do any deadlifts.”

“That’s the biggest mistake you can make!”  She exclaimed.

After getting over my initial shock, I had a long chat with the physio.  She made it clear that although I should take it slow and do it with the guidance of an experienced coach, I absolutely NEEDED to start deadlifting and doing other strengthening exercises.

I was concerned and a little cynical about this advice.  Surely deadlifts are what hurt my back in the first place!  She explained to me that I had a bulging disc, likely from years of sitting in a slouched or compromised position.  Then, when I lost form on a deadlift, I had torn some of the surrounding muscles.  My back had spasmed in order to protect itself and now it was constantly inflamed.

But if I didn’t work to strengthen my back, creating stronger, more resilient, and more pliable muscles, then I would always struggle with normal, day-to-day activities.  So I began the long road to getting stronger and more confident with my lower back.  We started with a limited-range-of-motion deadlift and several other breathing and strengthening exercises.  The weight I was using was laughable, not even a full barbell.

Slowly but surely though, I began to get stronger.  At the same time, my back pain continued to decrease!  I thought I would be stuck with back pain, every day, for the rest of my life.  I stayed patient, accepted the guidance of experts, and slowly increased the weight I could do and the range of movement.

Today, I have no fear of the deadlift.  But more importantly, I also don’t fear moving furniture around the house, picking up a heavy back of dog food, playing with my nephew (he’s getting bigger every day!), or tying my shoes.  I learned a valuable lesson and I want to share it with everyone else I meet with back pain:

Better start deadlifting!

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