One of my least favorite things to hear from people is...
"My (Insert healthcare professional here) told me not to deadlift, because it's bad for you."
Many healthcare providers tell people that they shouldn't deadlift because it's bad. This absolutely drives me crazy! People are lead to believe the deadlift is bad for you and that you shouldn't pick heavy things up because it will hurt their backs. When individuals hear this it scares them. It creates a fear around a foundational human movement which creates the perfect storm for that person developing chronic pain.
Many athletes with chronic back pain have hurt their back previously while performing deadlifts. This is often where their chronic back pain begins. As their pain progresses and becomes recurrent, they gradually begin to eliminate deadlifts from their training. Training goes well for a while, until things begin to go south again. Other movements begin to cause back pain so they eliminate those too. This process continues and often snowballs into a situation where the athlete feels like they are unable to train at all! Everything hurts their back and they now begin to strip away activities from their daily life. Eventually they reach a point of everything hurts and they are unable to function in life the way they need to!
This may seem like an extreme situation, but this actually happens way more than one might think. Many people think chronic back pain only happens in people who are sedentary and out of shape, but this truly isn't the case. Within my practice I've helped many athletes with chronic back pain; Elite special operations soldiers, national level elite downhill skiers, Crossfit athletes, olympic lifters, and power lifters. You would never know these athletes battled chronic pain just by looking at them. They are fit, project an active-healthy lifestyle, and they are more muscular and lean than the average joe.
Deadlifts are a foundational human function. It's the ability to hinge from the hip and pick an object up off the ground. Human movement can be broken down into foundational movements which together make up all the movements we do in life. In the upper body; we can push and pull. We can do both of these moving up (upright row, push press) , pulling towards (single arm row) / pushing away (bench press), or moving down (Pull up, dip). Through the spine we flex, extend, and rotate. Through the lower half of the body we hinge, squat, lunge, and rotate. For us to be functional humans, we need to have functional work capacity in ALL these movements.
The deadlift falls into the category of a hinge. The hinge is when a stable spine moves around a mobile hip in flexion or extension; or when a mobile hip moves around a stable pelvis and spine. Examples of these respectively would be the deadlift and L-sit. Other examples of hinge movements are picking objects up off the ground, the kettlebell swing, portions of the snatch and clean, toes to bar, and the good morning. When an athlete hurts their back in a deadlift, they often eliminate the deadlift first, then as pain persists they begin eliminating other hinge type movements.
Whats the solution to an athlete experiencing chronic back pain?
Simple: fix the movement pattern, build competency in the pattern, then progressively load it over time. As we progressively load the pattern we slowly increase functional capacity in that pattern. This process continues until eventually the athlete no longer has back pain, they feel great, they are back to deadlifting heavy in the gym, and they are performing better than they have in years!
"What about my back problem? I have a slipped disc and the back of an 80-year old."
With chronic back pain it's not a single pathology that's normally the problem. Your herniated disc and arthritis in your back are not the reasons for your chronic pain. Regardless of what you saw on your MRI, you can live your life without pain. Could there have been a pathologically tissue problem initially, absolutely. But after months and years of back pain, that most likely isn't the reason for your pain now. There are both central (inside the brain and spinal cord) and peripheral (around the painful area) sensitization that happens. Essentially, your body is hypersensitive to certain stimuli or movements. When your body encounters this stimuli, you perceive it as a threat, and experience pain to protect yourself. This is a very-very real pain, and often its crippling.
So I get back to working out how?
To get back to working out, you need to reteach the pattern, build competency in that pattern, and progressively load that pattern over time. This desensitizes the hypersensitive area, rebuilds your foundational movement patterns, and builds resilience and strength within the body to withstand the demands you place on it. There is both a neurological and structural adaptation in this process.
How long does this process take?
Well, this depends. There are a lot of factors to consider and it's an impossible question to answer correctly. Every individual is different. But, the process does work!
If you are experience chronic back pain, find a clinician who understands the rehab process and understands your goals to help you get back to the activities and sports you love. They will guide you along your journey, let you know what's normal and what's not normal, and they will get you back to the things you love in the quickest most efficient manner possible!
Do you have lingering back pain? Does your back tend to "go out" a few times a year? Do you fear hurting your back again? Does this fear prevent you from living life fully, and training without limitations? I have good news for you, you don't need to live in fear of back pain any longer!
The solution? Bulletproof your back by fixing your foundational movement patterns and building strength within those movement patterns! Build resilience, lift heavy weight, and live your life without pain or worry.
Here at Ground to Overhead Physical Therapy, we help athletes all over the country resolve their chronic pain. We do this with in person appointments for athletes local to our clinic. Remotely, we help athlete through individualized training programs designed to resolve the athletes pain and achieve their goals. We coach the athletes through electronic communication, video analysis, and video calls; guiding them step by step along the process of eliminating their chronic pain.
Questions about the content within this post?
Interested in how you could eliminate your back pain and improve your performance?
Contact me by clicking here!
Send me an email at Tancini@groundtooverheadphysicaltherapy.com .
I'll be happy to help!