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If you regularly suffer with bouts of back pain, you may find that it often occurs if you’re a regular gym-goer during exercises like squats or deadlifts. While these exercises can be fantastic for lower body strength, if you do have a back problem sadly it’s one of the first exercises you’ll start to experience pain if you’re not using correct form. Since they are difficult exercises to get right, and they can compress the spine when done incorrectly, it’s quite important that you consult with a personal trainer to monitor your form, have someone knowledgeable to spot your form, or refrain from those particular exercises entirely. With that said, there are certain adjustments you can make with deadlifts to make them safer and more manageable.

A deadlift can work the whole body, so it may be normal to experience tiredness or weakness in your back a day or two after training. But you shouldn’t find it difficult to move, twist or bend over – if it does there’s likely something amiss with your form. Deadlifts should predominantly work the glutes and hamstrings, but they will also work your lower back which can be fantastic if you do suffer with back pain frequently as it will help to strengthen the region to protect against injury. There is a point when you’ll have to identify, if you are experiencing pain in your back while doing deadlifts, is this pain a normal aching from exercise or is it a deeper pain that could be a sign you’ve pushed it a little bit too far. If it’s the latter, you’ll likely feel this pain around the area the waistband of your trousers would usually sit. You may be more prone to deeper pain if you’re training at nearly your maximal lift ranges – for example if you’re aiming for a personal best or you’re pushing the boundaries of the weights you usually lift, you may want to be more careful if you’re prone to back pain.

What kind of pain are you experiencing?

Certain pains in your back can be much more common while doing deadlifts, and is much less likely to be serious in context of the spine itself if you’re doing more reps. We’ll need to assume for this that you’re practicing good form, if you experience a general ache across the lower back this is likely to be just the ‘back pump’ which is just the blood flooding into these muscles. This can often bring stiffness with it just because you’re working the muscles quite hard. This isn’t a problem and it should calm down relatively swiftly, perhaps followed by some delayed onset muscle soreness in the next couple of days. You may feel like your back is quite stuck as the muscles are so taught, but it should be nothing to worry about.

Deep Spinal Pain Deadlifting

When you’re pushing weights that are higher, or doing one or two max repetitions with much higher weights, this is generally when your form tends to go out the window and you’re more likely to get some more deeper spinal pain. When you’re doing this type of exercise you’ll need to lift slowly and pay attention to how you’re feeling the next day. If you’re experiencing pain the following day, you’ll need to establish if it’s muscular pain that is going after one or two days? If yes, that’s perfectly fine and is most likely delayed onset muscle soreness. But if it’s not, it might be worth seeing a specialist for your back pain to evaluate your spine, or having a session with a personal trainer to evaluate your technique. Make sure you’re not lifting with a rounded back, this goes for anything in life not just deadlifting, as although it seems like a natural thing to occur it can cause a lot of compression on the discs which could eventually lead to slipped, bulging or herniated discs. Likewise, you need to make sure you’re not putting the bar too far away from you to begin with, as if the bar is too far forward it will put a lot of stress on your lower back and make it much more difficult to perform the exercise with correct form.

Different Grips for Deadlifting

Lastly, one thing that will help you to avoid overdoing it with deadlifts is to alter your grip to limit the amount of weight you can lift. A lot of people aiming for PBs in weightlifting alter their grip to an unsymmetrical split grip on the bar. This means that while one hand gripping the bar will be facing up, the other will face down. While this can help you to lift higher weights, it will not allow you to lift in a balanced way. Your hands and grip are a really good, built-in control mechanism in your body – and they will give up before your back does because they’re generally weaker. Switching your grip to having both hands facing down, called a double over-hand grip, will effectively eliminate the imbalances lifting unevenly can cause. A double over-hand grip will also allow you to strengthen your grip, which may be the reason you chose to split it in the first place! This will also mean that the rest of your body: your lats, lower back, glutes and hamstrings will be pulling in a balanced manner, rather than twisting which a split grip can cause.

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If you’re suffering with recurring or constant back pain for more than a few weeks, it’s worth visiting your local osteopath or chiropractor for an evaluation of your spine. If you’re based in the London area, our approach is an effective way to identify what exactly the root cause of your back pain is, and whether there’s things you’re doing on a daily basis that is affecting your ability to cope with that injury. To book in a consultation with us, which will include an examination, any X-rays should you need them, a treatment on your first visit, as well as results and radiology reports if appropriate, call us on 0203 947 3222 or email us at info@themayfairclinic.com to find out more!