T Nation

Fractured Back & Deadlifts


My Fiancee broke/fractured her back several years ago and according to the Doctors it was either her L3/L4 or L4/L5 that got fractured. The pain comes and ago and she's learned to deal with it, but lately she's been trying to deadlift and the first rep can cause her back to flare up to the point where she is pain for the next 2 days and is hobbling around.

We're thinking of removing it from her program entirely, but are unsure what would make a good replacement. DB deadlifts and Romanians all cause the same issue. We're pretty lost on what to do and she's extremely frustrated since she wants to lose weight and be more fit.

Any advice would greatly be appreciated.


I fractured one of my lumbar vertebrae (can't remember the exact #) in high school and didn't see a doctor about it till about 2-3 years later. Until I started physical therapy I found deadlifts and squats pretty dreadful and I couldn't lay down or sit without pain. I had to stay pretty hunched over sometimes and I couldn't run since I couldn't support the impact.

Did your fiancee go through physical therapy? That was the only thing that helped me. I had to go through about 6 months worth and it worked wonders. As well, I had to get some pretty painful massages on the right side of my back since it got extremely knotted and inflamed, I suppose from trying too hard to support my spine.

After all that, conventional deadlifts are still a little iffy for me. Push-ups and planks are still extremely difficult and I definitely pay for it if I ever let form slip. However I can do sumo deadlifts perfectly fine with zero pain. They are my favorite lift in fact!

If physical therapy isn't something she's gone through or can't see one for whatever reason I can give you all the exercises I did for it.


I fractured my L/T junction a while ago and don't have particular problems with squats and deadlifts - though I might be a bit wussier about maxing my deadlift for fear of my back position slipping than I would otherwise be.

I think part of it can be about learning to set the lumbar arch into a tight, pain free position where the spine is comfortably supported rather than the disks being smooshed into one another. Once one can do that then one can load that as much as one can maintain that position. If one can't obtain that position in the first place - then one needs to sort that first, though.


I'd love to get a look at the exercises they had you do. She didn't have insurance at the time and the Doctor she was seeing didn't offer any advice other than it will heal over time. She'll be on my insurance soon and I hope to get her in to see someone ASAP. I really think lack of PT is the big issue.


This may be the case, but she has issues deadlifting the bar. It seems any bent over movement she has issues with in her back. Squatting seems to be fine for the most part, but now that she is getting closer to her BW, she is starting to notice some pain.

I was thinking maybe if she worked on her core her pain would be easier to manage.


As soon as I get my hands on the sheets I'll give them to you. But in general they are ALL core work exercises that focus on stability. They told me, and I recall reading somewhere, that back injuries will diminish core strength, which is a double whammy since core strength is what you need to keep your spine pain-free.

The level 1 exercises seem pretty silly but they were really difficult for me at the time. I'll PM you when I get them.

After doing some good core work and (hopefully) diminishing some of her pain, try sumo deadlifts! Never feel a thing in my lower back when I do those.


In addition to the core work make sure you have great mobility in your hips, lumbar spine, and legs. This is different that just flexibility. Flexible has to do with muscle lengthening (i.e. you can touch the floor with your hands showing hamstring flexibility). Mobility means you are functional in your movements (i.e. being able to reach proper squat depth with losing your form).

Mobility is developed and improved through dynamic movements. Flexibility can assist with improving mobility, but this does not guarantee that you will be able to functionally move into the positions that you need to for proper weight lifting. Mobility is worked best with a solid dynamic warm-up program and with working through a full range of motion on your exercises. I like to use my warm-up sets to really focus on the mobility component and in some cases I may over emphasize some movements (i.e. REALLY deep squating).

I also recommend using a foam roller to do some trigger point therapy and some myofascial releases. You Tube has some examples of foam rolling or you can purchase your own foam roller and some come with their own DVD or exercise chart. I personally use the PB Elite from www.performbetter.com. It costs less that $25 and is one of the best investments you can make.

Good Luck. I know how much back issues can slow your exercise progress.


Thanks for the reply Trainercat ATC. She currently foam rolls everytime we go to the gym(4-6x a week). We're also doing the mobility drills provided in Show and Go by Eric Cressey since that is the current program I am following.