Lower Back Sprain From Deadlifts

Group weight lifting class in fitness club
An improperly executed deadlift can result in a sprain or strain of the lower back. (Image: SerrNovik/iStock/Getty Images)

Don’t let the simplicity of the deadlift fool you -- when properly executed, the old school exercise increases your core strength while working more muscles than any other single weightlifting move. On the other hand, improper execution could put too much stress on your lower back, leading to a painful sprain or strain. So it’s important to know what preventative measures to take, the correct lifting technique and what to do if you fall victim to a sprained or strained lumbar region.

Sprain or Strain

Although many people use the words “sprain” and “strain” interchangeably, they’re actually two different types of injuries. A strain is the result of the lower back’s muscle fibers being overly stretched or torn. A sprain occurs when ligaments -- the bands of tissue that hold the spine’s vertebrae in place -- are ripped from their connection points. Both injuries can result in intense lower back pain, muscle spasms, stiffness and decreased mobility.

The Healing Process

Regardless of whether your lower back trouble is the result of a strain or a sprain, the only true cure for either is time. An initial 48 to 72-hour period of intense pain will usually give way to discomfort that gradually diminishes over the following week or two. While there are measures you can take to relieve the pain -- such as applying ice for 20-minute intervals every few hours for the first three days, followed by 20-minute applications of a warm, moist towel starting on the fourth -- nothing can match the power of patience when it comes to healing. So not only will you have to put your weight-training regimen on hold, but you should also avoid any heavy lifting or excessive bending. If you return to pumping iron too soon, you could find yourself sidelined for another couple of weeks.

Proper Procedure

Because most deadlift related lower back injuries are the result of improper execution, it stands to reason the best way to avoid a sprain or a strain is by doing the lift properly. To achieve a proper stance, your feet should be positioned so the bar is directly over their center and, when you’ve got an overhand hold on the bar, your arms are vertical in relation to the floor and your shoulder blades are directly over the bar. With your back straight, begin the lift by extending your legs as you push down on your heels. When the bar reaches your shins just below your knees, continue the lift by thrusting your hips forward to bring your body to an upright position. This is important, as the alternative -- pulling back on the bar -- channels most of the stress to your lower back, which can result in a strain or sprain of the lumbar region. Finally, complete the lift by squeezing together your glutes. Set down the weights by following the aforementioned steps in reverse order.

Other Deadlifting Tips

While such tips as keeping your back straight might seem easy enough to remember now, the truth is, attempting to lift several hundred pounds of dead weight can have a tendency of diverting one’s concentration to other matters. One way of making sure you don’t inadvertently round your back while executing a deadlift is by thrusting your chest forward and maintaining it throughout the exercise. Also, because the bar often scrapes against one’s shins and knees as it’s being raised, many weightlifters risk injuring their lower backs by holding it too far away from their bodies. Wearing long pants to protect your legs can easily solve this problem. And as with any weight-training exercise, proper stretching before performing a set of deadlifts can make you less prone to injuries.

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