Are Deadlifts Safe for My Back?

performance physical therapy Jan 25, 2021
This is a hot topic in the lifting community and some of the things I hear from clients and even from medical professionals are mind blowing!
I could sum up this post with one word, but I want to shed some light on back pain and deadlifts first so that you can get a better understanding.
First, let’s talk about back pain.
88% of Americans will experience low back pain to a degree that impairs normal function.
Low back pain is the #1 cause of job-related disability (264 million missed days of work per year).
$50,000,000,000 is spent treating low back pain pharmaceutically.
1.2% of Americans receive surgery for low back pain but go on to account for 30% of all low back pain related healthcare costs over 12 months.
Approximately 6% of back pain cases can be linked to true pathoanatomical causes (5% fracture, 1% other - cancer, etc.).
What happens when you lift from the floor?
During lifting, the spine encounters compression, shear, and torque simultaneously.
Muscular force opposes shear and torque with the paraspinals, latissimus dorsi, and core muscles engaged.
Without counteracting muscular force, the force from interspinous ligaments resists torque moment but also contributes to a greater shear moment in the spine.
The human spine encounters a variety of forces throughout daily life (shear, compression, rotational torque).
It is impossible to avoid these forces even if you are 100% sedentary.
The force encountered at the back when sitting (unloaded) with increased spinal flexion is equal or greater compared to lifting 155 pounds.
Deadlifts are safe for your back!
It is actually less safe for your back if you don’t train deadlifts!
Deadlifting 155 pounds causes similar forces on the spine as sitting with your back rounded. That alone should tell you that the forces encountered during deadlifts are safe.
If you’re not convinced yet, I want you to think about this. How many times are you lifting from the floor in your daily life (pick up your shoes, bag, laundry bin, etc.)? If you never work on your strength and form with lifting things from the ground, then this task will become increasingly difficult for you. This could lead to poor form and the inability to tolerate normal shear, compressive, and rotational torque forces on your spine. This is called “Weak Back Disease” or “Back Not Strong Enough Syndrome.” Be smart and work on deadlifts, even if you start with light weights and a small range of motion. You can always build from there.
If you are having pain and difficulty trying to deadlift, then I recommend getting with a professional to check things out. Beyond Movement PT specializes in analyzing movement patterns, identifying root causes of pain, and getting you back to being awesome.
Corey Hall, PT, DPT

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