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Can Deadlifting Cause a Herniated Disc?


12.25 - Can Deadlifting Cause a Herniated Disc-min
Deadlifting is one of the most popular and effective exercises for building strength, muscle mass, and power. The deadlift primarily engages the posterior chain—comprising the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and core. When executed with proper form, the deadlift places controlled stress on these muscle groups, fostering strength and stability.

However, a cloud of uncertainty looms over this compound movement, with questions swirling about its potential to cause a herniated disc. Lower back pain as well as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the neck, arms, or legs can result from a herniated disc, which occurs when the soft inner part of a spinal disc bulges out through a tear in the outer layer.

But can deadlifting really cause a herniated disc? Is deadlifting safe or dangerous for your spine? How can you prevent a herniated disc from deadlifting? This article will answer these questions and more by separating fact from fiction and exploring whether this powerhouse exercise is a friend or foe to your spinal health.

Myth vs. Reality: Deadlifting and Disc Herniation

Deadlifting can cause a herniated disc, but it is not very common or likely. This is because the spine is designed to withstand compressive forces, such as those generated by deadlifting. The spinal discs act as shock absorbers that distribute the load evenly across the vertebrae, and the spinal muscles and ligaments provide stability and support for the spine. If the spine is aligned and balanced and the load is within the capacity of the spinal tissues, the risk of injury is minimal.

However, deadlifting can cause a herniated disc if the spine is misaligned, unbalanced, or overloaded. This can happen due to several factors, such as:

  • Poor form or technique – Lifting the weight with a rounded or twisted spine, using the back muscles instead of the legs, or jerking or bouncing the weight can create excessive shear or torsional forces on the spinal discs, which can cause them to rupture or tear.
  • Excessive weight or volume – Lifting more weight than the spine can handle or lifting the same weight for too many repetitions can fatigue the spinal muscles and ligaments and reduce their ability to protect the spine. This can increase the stress and strain on the spinal discs and make them more vulnerable to injury.
  • Preexisting disc damage or degeneration – Having a previous history of disc injury or degeneration can weaken the structure and function of the spinal discs and make them more prone to herniation. Aging, genetics, smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to disc degeneration.

Warming Up Properly

Warming up before deadlifting can increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to the spine and the surrounding muscles and prepare them for the upcoming load. A good warm-up should include some light cardio, dynamic stretches, and progressive sets of deadlifts with lighter weights. 

The Importance of Proper Form

Using proper form and technique when deadlifting can ensure optimal alignment and balance of the spine and efficient activation and coordination of the muscles. Incorrect lifting technique can lead to excessive strain on the lumbar spine, increasing the likelihood of injury. Emphasizing a neutral spine, hinging at the hips, and keeping the bar close to the body are fundamental components of proper deadlift form. Consulting with a certified trainer can help you fine-tune your technique, minimizing the risk of injury.

Progressive Overload and Smart Training

Gradual progression is key to any successful strength training program. Rushing into heavy deadlifts without allowing your body to adapt can lead to problems. Implementing a systematic approach to progressive overload, where you incrementally increase the weight lifted over time, gives your muscles, joints, and connective tissues the chance to adapt and grow stronger, reducing the risk of injury. 

An appropriate weight should be based on your goals, abilities, and recovery. A general guideline is to lift between 60 and 80 percent of the one-rep max for 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions, with 2 to 3 minutes of rest between sets.

Rest and Recovery

Resting and recovering after deadlifting can allow your spine and the surrounding tissues to heal and adapt to the stress and stimulus. A good rest and recovery routine should include getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding excessive or repetitive spinal loading.

Individual Variability in Risk

It is essential to recognize that not everyone’s body responds to deadlifting in the same way. Factors such as age, overall health, existing medical conditions, and individual biomechanics play a role in determining the risk of herniated discs. Tailoring your deadlift routine to your specific needs and limitations is crucial for a safe and effective training experience.

Addressing Preexisting Conditions

Individuals with preexisting spinal conditions may need to approach deadlifting with additional caution. Consulting with a healthcare professional or physical therapist before incorporating deadlifts into your routine is advisable. The professional can provide insights into potential modifications or alternative exercises that align with your fitness goals without compromising spinal health.

Strengthening the Core for Spinal Support

A strong core serves as a protective shield for the spine during deadlifting. Incorporating core-specific exercises into your training regimen can enhance spinal stability and reduce the risk of injury. Planks, bird-dogs, and anti-rotation exercises are valuable additions to fortify the core muscles, creating a robust foundation for deadlifting.

The relationship between deadlifting and herniated discs is nuanced. When approached with knowledge, respect for proper form, and consideration for individual factors, deadlifting can be a safe and valuable addition to a strength training routine. It is essential to focus on education, form refinement, and personalized programming to unlock the full potential of the deadlift without compromising spinal health.

If you have a herniated disc due to sports-related activities, surgery may be discussed and potentially recommended to provide relief. For example, if your herniated disc is not responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy may be the best option. Although discectomies and less invasive microdiscectomies are generally very successful back surgery procedures, patients with a large hole in the outer ring of the disc have a significantly higher risk of reherniation following surgery. Often, the surgeon will not know the size of the hole until beginning surgery, and having a large hole in the outer ring of the disc more than doubles the risk of needing another operation. A new treatment, Barricaid, is a bone-anchored device that closes this hole, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us today.

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