T Nation

Lost Mobility and Lower Back Pain


Lately I've been getting intense lower-back pain from very light deadlifts. I used to be able to reach down and grab the bar, with straight legs and a completely flat back. Now I can barely reach to knee-level in that manner. I lost a lot of mobility somehow, and I believe this is causing my back pain. Any ideas on how to treat this?


Increase and restore your hip mobility. Determine where you are restricted and improve those areas.


I would imagine it's the hamstrings that are keeping me from reaching down, but I can't tell for sure since I only feel pain/tightness in my low-back. Also having trouble finding a good ham stretch.


It is impossible for me to say what it is on you without being able to evaluate you myself. But if you have tight musculature causing an anterior pelvic tilt, it can cause spasming and discomfort in your lumbar spine area. Can't just assume that it is coming from hamstrings. You should probably try and find somebody to do an assessment eval.


Could you provide us with a picture or video of you in the bottom position?



I can do that, unfortunately I can't get to the gym today, but I could just take a vid of me getting into the position I'd normally deadlift from.


Here's one.


After watching your video, it looks like you have lumbar flexion (tailing under) occurring when pulling yourself down into the bottom of the deadlift.

This is a random deadlift video I found, but the pictures in it help show what I am talking about. Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-O_MT72rck&feature=fvw
During the first still picture, the person is in a similar situation where they have some lumbar flexion at the bottom.
During the second still picture, the person's hips are a bit higher, the bar position improves, and the lumbar spine goes back to neutral. That neutral spine position is what you want to keep from the bottom/start of the lift until the end.

The flexion of the lumbar spine under load may be what is causing your low back pain.


I see what you mean. So I should start my pull somewhere in between the position where I grab the bar and where I begin the lift in my video? Thanks for the help btw.


My recommendations are:

1) To figure out where you mobility limitations are in your hips, ankles, and t-spine and work on those.

2) Until those mobility issues are corrected, do rack pulls from a depth where you can keep a neutral spine and progress as the mobility improves.




Foam rolling is very helpful in increasing/maintaining mobility. I see way too many people pulling heavy loads in lumbar flexion. Mobility work needs to be a constant in your routine.



I stumbled across this article, and did it twice yesterday, and twice today(excluding the back stretches). I can already tell the difference. I'd say my back pain has been reduced by about 50%. I'm going to take at least the next 2 weeks off from any squatting/deadlifting, and just do some back raises and bodyweight step-ups.


If you re-watch the video you posted you'll notice that that the first half of the lift is performed using back extension. This indicates an aberrant motor pattern in which the gluteals are failing to fire as they should during the initial stages of the lift. I think you need to take a step back and work on your glute activation.

One way to work on this is to lie on your back with your knees flexed and feet on the floor. Place your hands by your side and fingers touching your gluteus maximus. Imagine there is a coin in each gluteal fold that must not be dropped. Now work on activating the glutes by squeezing the buttocks together. Work on building a conscious awareness of the muscle activation while maintaining a neutral pelvis and low back.

When you have mastered this initial activation (give it time), you can start bridging the torso off the floor (raising the pelvis using the gluteus maximus). Again keep the low back and pelvis in neutral positions. You will likely have to work very hard at the bridging stage to override hamstring dominance, where the hamstrings fire just prior to the glutes. It should be the glutes firing first.

Note, I've taken this primarily out of McGill S. (2007). Low Lack Disorders: Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation, 2nd Edition. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

Good luck with your low back issues and just to echo LevelHeaded's response, until you have these issues sorted, stop deadlifting or working in a range of motion that puts your low back in a flexed position.


Thanks for the tips man. I've been hitting mobility/stretching hard every day, I'll add this glute activation to my routine as well. My back pain has gone from constant to only when I bend over. Got an appointment with a chiro tomorrow.


Went to the chiro, turns out I sprained my lower back. No disc injuries thankfully. Turns out the right side of my pelvis was sitting a lot higher than the left side, causing my spine to bend all funky. He thinks this is what caused the sprain, said it'll take 4-6 weeks to heal.


May i offer one observation?

What is the goal of stretching?

ok let's take the obvious answer that someone feels something is tight and so stretching it is supposed to make it less tight in order to offer up better range of motion, yes?

But what if we pull back one level and ask "why is this tight" in the first place? If the nervous system is not comfortable doing something it is going to restrict our ROM or our strength to do that. In other words, it's often the case that folks who stretch still get just as tight and have to do as much stretching; folks who foam roll have to keep foam rolling rather than getting "fixed" by foam rolling - often not always. why? perhaps because it's not addressing what's causing us to tighten up in the first place?

The feedback above on the dl form is that the form is not great. The responses have been largely about how to compel the body to get into that form by stretching one thing and trying to get something else to fire. this may make sense, but not sure.

Levelheaded has suggested that maybe the ankles, hips and t-spine aren't happy. I'd like to come back to that, too, because it doesn't sound like that's been checked - and that means a movement assessment of some kind - functional movement screen, z-health to name two can offer this. why do this? if your movement is screwed in some respect (few of us have perfect movement), then something is paying for it somewhere - if we go about trying to address that in an isolated this muscle/that stretch way, for the purpose of a lift rather than life, we can miss a lot and not help the bod.

To try to pull these strands together - the issue may be showing up in your deadlift, but it's likely more holistic/global than just the deadlift. indeed, some screens use the overhead squat to show up a suite of possible issues and then unpack to work on them from there.

So, recommendation: get thee to a movement screen of some kind, and consider looking at whole movement and your deadlift - assuming you get some coaching to get into correct form and Starting Strength DVD/Book is great in the absence of a personal coach session - will improve as a result of that.

dr mc schraefel


interesting - were you given some kind of rehab work to keep mobile?

also, if i may come back to this assessment - sorry just saw this after i posted but the point remains:
- if your right side is higher than your left - so what? lots of folks have bends in their spines (scoliosis for instance) and they're functionally dandy. is this doing something to your movement?

once you get all healed up, what will your movement be like relative to your deadlift or your regular daily activities? was whatever came out as a sprain this time going to come out as a sprain or something else next time?

what's your thinking on what's next?



one last thing?

do get something like starting strength - or better yet a session with a coach - to check out form.
if we were working together i'd be giving you form cues for instance to see if you could get your butt back more without falling over while keeping your knees above your ankles so that effectively you're lower can get the bar without rounding your back.

Right now, we don't know if you're too tight to do that or just don't know to do that and so are having these funky back things happening.



Wasn't given any rehab work, but I have been doing lower body exercise that doesn't aggravate my back(pull-thrus, bulgarian split squats, hills/sled). The chiro seems to think I'll make a full recovery, but I do plan on switching to a semi-sumo deadlift stance when I am healed; it seems like I can hold an arch much easier that way. Also, just trying to get my butt back seems to make my back round, like something is pulling it under. Range of motion is slowly increasing with stretching and PVC rolling. Thanks for the interest by the way.