“Put your back into it” is up there for the worst advice you could ever get at the gym.
If you’re dealing with lower back pain after deadlifting, the most likely culprit is your technique. But the price of deadlifting doesn’t have to be a sore lower back. In fact, some doctors actually recommend deadlifting as a remedy for lower back pain.
Here’s how to feel better ASAP and how to make sure you’ve got your deadlifting form dead straight for next time.
Deadlifting places significant mechanical stress on your lumbar spine. That’s the part of your spine that’s situated below your ribs and above your hips. If you’re a beginner, you might notice you have some soreness in this area after a deadlifting sesh.
But even experienced dead lifters can get lower back pain if they’re not extra careful about form on every rep. Bad form puts excessive stress on your spinal extensor muscles (aka lumbar paraspinals). These help stabilize your body during a deadlift — they’re not designed to do all the work. Your bigger muscles like glutes and hamstrings should be taking a majority of the workload.
How can you prevent this extra strain? Avoid “rounding” your back when deadlifting. It’s a common mistake that can cause lower back pain. Make sure to keep your spine in a neutral position throughout the whole exercise.
Could it be something more serious?
Just because it’s more likely that your form is off, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible something else is going on. The lumbar spine is one of the most common injury areas for athletes. If you’re experiencing severe, sharp pain, let you doctor know right away.
If you feel pain mostly on one side of your back, you might be favoring one side of your body over the other when you deadlift. Just like your left or right hand can be dominant, most people have a dominant side when it comes to musculature and strength, too.
It’s pretty common to try to compensate for any weakness by overdoing it with your stronger side. Make sure that if your form is suffering, you train with a lower weight that your whole body can handle. Over time, you can work back up to higher, more challenging weights.
Many people assume that experiencing lower back pain after deadlifting is just the price you pay for doing this exercise. That’s dead wrong.
Maintaining good form throughout the deadlift motion is the best way to avoid lower back pain while exercising:
- Don’t look up. Keep your head in a neutral position, looking down at the floor with your chin tucked as you set up to begin a deadlift. The back of your head should be aligned with your flat, straight back and spine.
- As you reach down for the barbell, make sure your knees are aligned with the middle of your feet, and your shoulders are over the bar.
- Exhale fully before lifting to ensure that your ribcage drops and your abs and obliques (known as the anterior core) are engaged for the lift.
- The deadlift is predominantly a hip hinging movement. Shift your weight back slightly, then forward, as you lift the weights and stand. Learning a proper hip hinge will place less stress on your lower back and give your glutes, hamstrings, and calves the workout you’re looking for.
So you did your best to maintain perfect form while deadlifting, but your back still hurts. Don’t worry. Chances are you’re just experiencing muscle soreness.
It’s not a quick fix, but time and rest are the best recipe for recovery. That means no more deadlifting until the pain is gone. Even if you’re dealing with a minor muscle strain, your pain will typically resolve on its own within 12 weeks. Discomfort may last another week or 2, depending upon the severity of the injury.
To reduce swelling and pain, apply ice to the sore part of your back for 15 to 20 minutes every couple hours for the first 3 days, followed by 15 to 20 minutes of a moist hot pack beginning on the fourth day. Avoid any heavy lifting and try not to flex your spine.
If rest and icing aren’t helping, talk with your doctor. They can examine you to figure out if something else is up and recommend the best treatment.
FYI: Once you start feeling better, don’t be afraid to move that bod. Getting overly cautious can backfire and make it more likely that your back pain will hang around. Instead, focus on perfecting proper form with light (or zero) weight until you’re confident enough to increase your workload.
How soon can you do another deadlift?
Wait until all pain and discomfort from your deadlifting injury are gone before attempting to deadlift again. Typically, that means waiting 1 to 2 weeks. In the meantime, you can work to prevent another deadlifting injury with core stability exercises like:
- glute squeezes
- bridge exercises
- pelvic tilts
- abdominal draw-in maneuvers
- dead bugs
- TA (transverse abdominus) bracing
How deadlifting can help ease back pain
It’s a myth that deadlifting is inherently dangerous for your back. In fact, older research shows that deadlifting — when it’s done right — can help lower pain for some folks with mechanical low back pain (MLBP). Used as part of a rehabilitation program, deadlifting may reduce pain scores and improve function in the lower back.
Lower back injuries are a common — but avoidable — result of deadlifting. Maintaining a flat back and mastering the hip-hinging motion of the deadlift are key parts of deadlifting form that can help keep you safe.
If you do experience back pain after deadlifting, ice and rest are the best remedies. Recovering from deadlifting injuries to the lower back typically takes several weeks, but you can use that time to strengthen stabilizing muscles and prevent future injuries. But if you’re dealing with severe, shooting back pain, reach out to your doctor right away.