To Avoid or Not to Avoid?

This Is A Ridiculous Question

The deadlift pattern is something we do on a daily basis.  Picking up children, moving furniture, putting on shoes, are all involving this hip hinge pattern, but if you have a history of back pain, it may literally hurt you to watch someone deadlift. This sensation happens due to pain pathways becoming hypersensitive over the course of several years of pain. In other words, your brain remembers what hurt your back in the past, and therefore increases the severity of your perceived pain with certain movements long after the damaged tissue itself is healed.  This is a protective mechanism in place to prevent further damage, but unfortunately can have the opposite effect.

With the best of intentions, the brain has placed blame on a movement which you in turn avoid like the plague.  However, when performed properly, with an adequate degree of stability around the spine, the large gluteal muscles and muscle of the back take the brunt of the force generated when performing a deadlift, not the discs or joints.  Core control, good hip mobility, and disassociation of low back and hip movement all play key roles in performing this movement pattern correctly and are imperative to a properly functioning back.

However, when you have a painful episode, the body will shut down certain muscles, and lock down certain joints.  This is called compensation and it allows the injured area to gain relief while healing.  A big part of that healing should be re-introducing the painful movement in a controlled manner so the brain learns to “get over the fear” of a once provocative position.  If the proper pattern is not re-introduced, the compensation will get strengthened over time and the brain will use this compromised system as its default movement pattern. 

Over the course of time, failure to work this movement will make you very injury prone to low back injuries because you will lose competency and integrity of this daily pattern.  You will start to flex at the lumbar spine instead of hinging at the hips with simple daily tasks like putting on shoes or sitting in a chair.  The gluteal muscles will stop working within a chain of muscles and overload hamstrings, hip flexors or erectors. As you deteriorate in your ability to maintain a stable spine and mobile hips, you will be pushed further into compensation and create an injury prone environment for your low back.

Now, I’m not saying you should go into the gym today and start pulling a barbell off the ground because everyone’s anatomy and current capabilities are different.  This is itself a very deep subject with many differing opinions (a blog for another time perhaps) but in short, your anatomy may predispose you to responding better to different types of hinging patterns.  Maybe you should pull from an elevated surface.  Maybe you should perform sumo deadlifts instead of conventional.  Maybe you should forego the barbell all together and work with kettlebells or dumbbells.  The style of deadlift is much less important than reintroducing this hip hinge back into your movement repertoire, then strengthening that deadlift.

Can you get hurt deadlifting to much? Of course.  But you can also die from drinking too much water, so let’s not live in the extremes.  The fact is, deadlifts can help back pain patients recover faster and become more injury resistant in the process by strengthening a natural human movement pattern.  So if you are not currently deadlifting in some form or fashion, you are missing out on what may be the key to your recovery! 

For more information on Chiropractic treatment, education on Body Maintenance techniques, or coaching for sustainable exercise programs visit or call the office 931-321-1414 to schedule your FREE consultation with Dr. Dunaway.