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The Deadlift: A Safe and Effective Exercise for Rehabbing Low Back Pain

Deadlifts have often been viewed with caution, even fear particularly among those with low back

pain. However, the evidence demonstrates that not only is this movement safe but highlights the

benefits of incorporating deadlifts into rehabilitation programs. Let’s delve into the research and

explore how to safely integrate deadlifts into your routine.

The Evidence

There are many studies that point to the benefits of utilizing the functional movement of bending over and picking up something, aka the deadlift, to strengthen the low back and helping people

eliminate low back pain while building capacity and resiliency. We discuss four of the more

intriguing studies below.

Holmberg Study: In this aggressive study from 2012, researchers took three participants with

chronic low back pain (pain lasting >3 months) and had them perform 5 sets of 2-5 repetitions,

2x per week, as heavy as possible. 2 of 3 of the participants improved with this protocol.

Although this may be considered too aggressive and not one we would likely utilize without our

clients, Holmberg’s research emphasized that deadlifts can be a therapeutic exercise for

individuals with low back pain. The study demonstrated that when performed with proper

technique and under professional guidance, deadlifts help improve strength and stability in the

lower back.

Welch et al. Study: This research focused on a 16-week resistance training routine, also including

individuals with back pain greater than 3 months in duration. It utilized many different exercises

such as deadlifts, squats, and lunges and even had participants lifting loads between their 6 and

10 rep maxes. This study corroborated Holmberg’s findings, showing that deadlifts, when

appropriately prescribed, do not exacerbate low back pain. Instead, they can help in reducing

pain and improving functional outcomes by strengthening the lumbar extensors.

Asa Study: This study was interesting because it divided the subjects into two groups, one

performing eight weeks of deadlifts and the other performing low load motor control exercises

focused on the individual’s impairments. Both groups improved with the low load motor control

group demonstrating greater improvements in only the patient specific functional scale. One

might say the limitation in the study might be that they didn’t have an exercise group including

both motor control exercises and deadlifts. Nonetheless, the 2015 study by Asa et al. further

supports the safety and efficacy of deadlifts in rehabilitation and highlights the importance of

progressive loading and technique modification to match the individual’s capability, which leads

to improved spinal health and reduced pain.

Berglun.d et al. Study: This study was a follow-up to the Asa study, specifically looking at the

deadlift group and determining which subjects responded best to that intervention. Greatest

improvements with a deadlift routine were noticed in those that had <6/10 pain and greater

lumbar spine endurance. In addition, Berglund’s research focused on the biomechanics of the

deadlift, demonstrating that proper execution minimizes undue stress on the lumbar spine. The

study reinforced that deadlifts, when performed correctly, activate the posterior chain muscles

effectively, promoting spinal stability.

How to Incorporate Deadlifts into a Rehab Program
  1. Start Light: Begin with minimal weight to master the form. A PVC pipe or a light barbell is ideal.

  2. Progress Gradually: Increase the load gradually as strength and confidence build.

  3. Professional Guidance: Seek advice from a physical therapist or a qualified trainer to ensure proper form and progression.

Common Movement Faults
  1. Rounded Back: A rounded back places undue stress on the spine. Keep the back straight and engage the core.

  2. Barbell Position: The bar should stay close to the body. A bar too far forward increases the lever arm and stress on the back.

  3. Hips Rising Too Fast: Ensure the hips and shoulders rise at the same rate to maintain spinal alignment.

Proper Bracing Technique
  1. Breathing: Inhale deeply into your belly before lifting, expanding your abdomen and creating intra-abdominal pressure.

  2. Engage the Core: Tighten your core muscles as if preparing for a punch.

  3. Maintain Tension: Keep this bracing throughout the lift to protect your spine and maintain stability.

By following these guidelines and integrating deadlifts appropriately, individuals can safely

enhance their low back strength and overall functional capacity. The key lies in proper technique,

gradual progression, and professional oversight, ensuring that deadlifts serve as a beneficial

component of low back pain rehabilitation. If you’re experiencing low back pain and are

apprehensive to implement the deadlift into your rehab program, we are here to guide you.

Contact us to set up your evaluation so we can help you get out of pain fast and return back to

the things you enjoy.

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