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You’re having lower back pain after deadlifts because you’ve likely increased your intensity or volume too quickly. In other cases, it can be a random event. The main thing you want to pay attention to is to make sure it’s not a pattern.
Although low back pain, tightness, and soreness after deadlifts is a fairly common experience, deadlifting is among one of the safest and best lifting exercises one can do for their overall health.
Progressing how much weight you are doing over time is the best way to keep making improvements while minimizing injury risk.
I’m a powerlifter and a physical therapist who works with clients with back pain every day. I’ve deadlifted 600 lbs. in competition so I have a bit of experience in speaking on the topic of lower back pain after deadlifts.
If you need help and aren’t comfortable trying to rehab yourself, please visit this page and fill out the consultation form.
Before we get into it, a lot of people worry about herniated discs and how painful that is, what it feels like, and if it’s possible to recover. I wrote another article about that, that you may want to check out.
What causes lower back pain after deadlifts?
Too much weight or volume too soon.
Most clients that I work with tend to have tried to push too much weight too soon without enough rest, or without warming up. This can end up causing soreness in the lower back.
Of course, this is not always the case, however this is a common reason that this occurs based on my own experience with clients.
If you are just starting out with deadlifting, I recommend starting light, focus on developing tightness through your mid and lower back, and lats, and then work on increasing the weight.
I want to reiterate that heavy weight is not bad, in fact, it’s a great thing.
We should all strive to be able to lift heavier things as I believe this increases our overall capacity in daily life. It just makes sense to start off a little slower and build your way up, similar to how you would progress running.
It likely wouldn’t be a smart idea to go sprinting around a track at full speed if you haven’t sprinted in a year.
The same goes for deadlifting and maxing out, it’s probably not the best idea if you haven’t lifted in a year to max out on day one.
If you’re having trouble squatting, too, you’ll want to read this article I wrote, too. It will go through a few modifications you can make as well.
If you are afraid to do something, including performing a deadlift. There is a higher chance that you will experience some sort of pain or discomfort. The nocebo effect is a real thing; nocebo being an adverse event, in this case pain, due to a negative belief.
What doesn’t cause low back pain after deadlifts?
Poor form. Not really though.
This is actually less of an issue than you might think. Our body is incredibly adaptable and resilient. If we only trained with a flexed forward posture or rounded back, our body would adapt to that and develop the tolerance for this load as it is applied.
Do I teach a certain form for deadlifting? Yes. In the beginning, I like to teach a specific form, particularly working on developing full-body tightness prior to initiating the lift, however as time goes on I specifically will work with people on lifting with “bad posture,” as this is more realistic for everyday life.
You won’t be able to get into a perfect posture (whatever the hell that means) at all times when picking things up in your everyday life so you might as well train yourself in the gym to be able to do this too. That’s why I like Jefferson curls so much once my client’s symptoms have subsided down to tolerable levels.
- Muscular imbalances. Again, this is not really an issue.
Most people have less than a 10% difference in limb symmetry when I test them using a force gauge.
If someone has larger than a 10% strength difference between sides and they continuously have symptoms on one side then I may do a further examination to see if this could be playing a role in their symptoms.
What can you do about a sore lower back from deadlifts?
Decrease the weight
Cut the weight down to 50% of what you usually use. If your symptoms are tolerable with using 50% of your normal weight, then congratulations, you’ve found a great rehab exercise! If it’s still sore and really painful with 50%, I recommend then going down to an empty bar or a light kettlebell and starting with some sumo deadlifts to see how those feel.
Choose different exercises
If it’s still beyond tolerable limits (usually a 0-4 on the pain scale), then scaling down to more basic exercises may be necessary such as goodmornings (with very light weight or unloaded), or bird dogs. As you can see, there is a near-infinite number of ways to modify this.
Change the tempo
If 50% of your working weight feels good you can do tempo deadlifts to increase the overall intensity and see how that feels. Tempo deadlifts can be done at a wide range of speeds including 3-0-3, 3-1-3, 5-0-5, etc.
Modify your range of motion
It’s possible it only hurts when at the bottom of the deadlift. If this is the case, you can start from blocks, or start with the bar from a more elevated position. Usually, this is done with either a 4” or 6” lift to start with. You can always increase or decrease the height as symptoms allow.
Use heat, ice, and NSAIDs
It’s fine to use some basic modalities and medications to help ease symptoms when they are flared up.
This is true for any rehab. Check-in with yourself and see how things are feeling during the workout, one hour after, and 24 hours after. If the symptoms of a sore lower back are the same, better, and not significantly worse (tolerable), then you have found a winning rehab plan.
Continue on that path and continue to increase intensity and volume as symptoms allow.
If you still aren’t sure how to make modifications, tap here for an article I wrote about 7 different ways you can modify your exercise routine if you’re having pain.
Also, if you’re wondering if back hyperextension can help, check out this article.
Is it normal to have pain after deadlifting? Should my lower back be sore after deadlifts?
Your lower back should not be sore after every deadlift session. While it’s normal to have pain every once and a while, if this has become a pattern, you should definitely do something about. Please follow the above recommendations to make some progress with this.
In any given year, i’ll have about one to three episodes of back discomfort after deadlifting, usually if I haven’t warmed up very well and if I haven’t been lifting for a couple weeks. The best antidote to soreness after deadlifting is quite ironically, to do more deadlifting with modifications.
If you are having soreness and pain every time then I would classify this as not normal. Please refer to the above section to see what you might be able to modify. If you’ve done the modifications and still can’t seem to shake your symptoms, I’d love to help. You can contact me by shooting me an email at [email protected].
Another great article to check out is by Dr. Michael Mash about this topic.
How long does the pain from deadlifting usually last?
Most back pain, related to deadlifts or something else, lasts for 2 to 6 weeks.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to stay moving and get back to whatever your normal workout routine is, including deadlifting.
Follow the above guidelines and you should be good to go. If you’re not, contact me, or your local physical therapist who knows how to lift.
Can a deadlift cause a slipped disc?
This is a common misunderstanding. Discs don’t slip. Herniations and disc bulges are a real thing, but deadlifting does not increase the risk of this occurring, if anything it likely reduces the likelihood of such an event.
Most of my clients that come work with me who do have symptomatic disc herniations did it while picking up something incredibly light off the ground, or by moving some awkward object like a couch. And guess how many of these people lifted on a regular basis? Close to zero.
So, can a disc bulge or herniation be caused by deadlifting, sure, it can, however, it’s likely more protective than anything.
I’d highly recommend checking out this article from Barbell Medicine if you are not convinced.
Also, here are my favorite deadlifting accessories to help you with your gainz!
- Dead wedge (one of the best purchases I’ve made and has really made the loading and unloading of plates pretty seamless.
- Lifting straps
- Inzer deadlifting belt
- Deadlifting shoes
If you are a kicker or punter, or play soccer, I created an article about low back pain from kicking that may be helpful, too.
- Too much weight too soon, fear, and potentially form issues are likely causative factors back pain with deadlifting. Pain is complex and never has only one driving force.
- Most back pain from deadlifts will get better with time
- Deadlifting with reduced weight is a great way to rehab this issue
- Lifting heavy weights is safe. You should progress slowly as you would progress running
- Low back pain usually lasts for 2-6 weeks
- Staying active and getting back to normal activities while minimizing symptoms is the best approach to alleviating back pain.