Common Deadlift Injuries – Introduction
What are the most common deadlift injuries and how can you prevent them?
Exercises don’t come much more productive than deadlifts.
Working almost your entire body, deadlifts are a great way to build muscle and get stronger.
They can even help you lose weight.
In fact, deadlifts are such a beneficial exercise that, in Victorian times, they were known as the health lift.
However, while there is no doubt that deadlifts can do you good, there are downsides and risks to consider too.
Done correctly, deadlifts are a very safe exercise.
But, because of the weights usually involved, there is also a chance of injury.
Using good form, warming up properly, and not using too much weight should minimize the risk of hurting yourself.
Unfortunately, sometimes injuries just happen despite these precautions.
This article lifts the lid on the most common deadlift injuries and what you can do to prevent them.
Table of Contents
- Muscle tears and tendon injuries
- Deadlift back pain and back injury
- Biceps injuries
- Deadlift knee injury
- Hand and finger injuries
- Burst blood vessels
- Common deadlift injuries – final thoughts
6 Most Common Deadlift Injuries
#1. General muscle tears and tendon injuries
Muscles are made up of bundles of fibers.
These fibers are wrapped in fibrous tissue called fascia.
Muscles are attached to your bones by tendons, which are inelastic and rope or cord-like.
Muscles shorten to generate force.
Lifting heavy weights puts a lot of stress on your muscles.
That’s no bad thing because it’s this stress that triggers increases in strength and size.
However, it’s entirely possible for that stress to exceed the structural capabilities of your muscles and tendons.
This stress can result in injuries.
Mild muscle tears are painful but normally heal within a week or so.
However, deeper muscle tears can take much longer – a month or more.
Tendon injuries are more serious.
Tendons are avascular, which means they have a very limited blood flow and take longer to heal.
Depending on the severity, a tendon injury could take several months to fully heal and could even need surgery if it has ruptured.
Any muscle and tendon can be injured during deadlifts, including the hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, and biceps.
There are several things you can do to avoid muscle and tendon injuries:
Prevention tips and techniques
- Warm-up thoroughly
- Don’t go too heavy, too soon
- Avoid trying to snatch the barbell off the floor, instead, initiate the lift with these important cues:
- Imagine your arms and grip are like hooks, merely to firmly hold the barbell, not to lift it!
- Engage your lats first before even starting your lift
- To engage your lats, think of wrapping the barbell around your shins
- Before you even start your lift, raise your chest, flatten your back, contract your lats, and brace your core
- Now, push your feet against the floor, drive the floor away from you, that is how to initiate the bottom half of your deadlift
- Keep the barbell against your shins the entire time
- When you feel the bar close to your knees, drive your hips forward by tightening your glutes
- Stand tall at the end of the deadlift, but do NOT hyperextend or arch your back
- Stop 1-2 reps short of failure
- Respect your body’s need for rest and recovery between workouts
- Use assistance exercises to target any weak muscles
- Stop your set or workout if you feel any muscle twinges
#2. Deadlift back pain and injury
Deadlifts are an excellent exercise for building a stronger, more muscular back but can also cause serious back injury.
That’s somewhat ironic, given that deadlifts actually teach you the safest way to lift heavy objects off the floor.
In some cases, back injuries during deadlifts are simply pulled muscles.
The good news is that this kind of injury isn’t overly serious and should heal relatively quickly.
In contrast, injuries to the spine are much more concerning.
Your spine is a complex structure made from 33 bones, most of which are separated by cartilaginous pads called intervertebral discs.
The bones are connected by ligaments and controlled by lots of different muscles.
Like tendons, ligaments have a very poor blood supply, which means they are slow to heal.
Intervertebral discs have no blood supply and, once damaged, may not heal at all.
How to protect your spine
When deadlifting, your spine must be neutral.
That means all of the normal curves remain the same, despite the fact you’re leaning forward and lifting a weight.
If you round your lower back, some stress will shift from your muscles and onto your intervertebral discs and ligaments.
This force could cause injury to these slow-healing tissues.
For this reason, deadlifting with a rounded back is always best avoided.
If your spine is not neutral, the chances of serious injury are much higher.
Leaning back at the top of a deadlift could also cause injury.
However, instead of being the result of flexion, this type of injury is caused by extension of the spine.
Extension injuries can damage the intervertebral discs but could also injure the lumbar vertebrae themselves.
Prevention tips and techniques
Strategies for reducing the risk of a back injury during deadlifts include:
- Learn how to brace your core to increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and support your spine from within
- Strengthen your core so you can brace more effectively
- Wear a weightlifting belt to further increase IAP
- Perfect your deadlifting technique, for example, keep the bar close to your legs, lumbar spine slightly arched, not letting your hips rise faster than your shoulders, as described above in the prevention tips for muscle tears and tendon injuries.
- Stand up straight at the top of each rep, but never lean backward
- Do not use so much weight that your form breaks down
- Stop your set if you feel that you are unable to maintain a neutral spine
- Stretch your hamstrings so that you are better able to keep a neutral spine
- Do rack pulls to avoid having to lean over so far
#3. Biceps injuries
There are two ways to hold the bar for deadlifts – a double overhand grip or a mixed grip.
The double overhand grip is arguably the safest way to deadlift, but it’s also the weakest, which is why a lot of lifters use lifting straps or prefer to use a mixed grip.
With a mixed grip, one hand is supinated (underhand), and one hand is pronated (overhand).
This helps stop the bar from rolling out of your fingers.
However, the biceps on the supinated side is under a lot of stress, and injuries are not uncommon.
This could be something like a mild biceps tear but could be as severe as the biceps being ripped completely away from the bone, which would require surgery to repair.
Minimize your risk of biceps injuries by:
- Using an overhand grip, and wearing lifting straps if necessary
- Switching your mixed grip set by set to avoid overloading one biceps more than the other
- Keeping your arms locked straight and never trying to bend your elbows during deadlifts
- Not snatching the bar off the floor
- Warming up your biceps before deadlifts
#4. Knee injuries
Compared to squats, deadlifts are a fairly knee-friendly exercise.
In fact, if squats hurt your knees, you may find that you can deadlift without pain.
That said, your knees are still involved in deadlifts, which means they could be injured, especially if you are lifting heavy weights.
Deadlifting means lifting and supporting a heavy weight with your knees, and that could result in cartilage, meniscus, and ligament injuries.
All of these structures are avascular and will take a long time to heal.
How to minimize your risk of knee injuries:
- Warm-up your knees before you start your workout
- Make sure your knees don’t drop in or out during your lift
- Lighten the load if you do deficit deadlifts, which place your knees in a more flexed position
- Do not drop into a deep squat before initiating your pull off the floor
- Do not turn deadlifts into a squat lift; you should be using your hips more than your knees
#5. Hand and finger injuries
Deadlifts require and develop a strong grip, but your hands and fingers are possible sources of injury.
One of the most common hand and finger injuries is torn calluses.
Calluses are areas of thickened skin.
While the callus itself is strong, the surrounding skin is not, so it’s entirely possible to partly or fully rip a callus off.
This is a painful injury, and torn calluses usually bleed a lot.
They also take a long time to heal.
The hands and fingers are also prone to tendon and overuse injuries, such as repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Minimize your risk of hand and finger injuries by:
- Filing and trimming your calluses regularly
- Using lifting chalk to stop the bar from slipping in your hands
- Not using a hook grip (thumb tucked under your first/second finger)
- Doing specific grip-building exercises
- Doing finger extension exercises
#6. Burst Blood Vessels
If you’ve ever watched World’s Strongest Man or a powerlifting competition, you may have seen athletes get nosebleeds during heavy deadlifts and squats.
Nosebleeds are caused by burst blood vessels.
Some lifters get bloodshot eyes too.
Blood travels around your body in a closed system.
When you lift heavy weights, your muscles clamp down on your blood vessels, temporarily preventing blood flow and increasing blood pressure.
Combined with bracing and holding your breath, this can cause tiny blood vessels to rupture, leading to nosebleeds and bloodshot eyes.
Variations in blood pressure can also lead to headaches, feeling dizzy, and fainting.
While these issues can be commonplace for elite lifters, if you are working out for health and fitness, they are best avoided.
Strategies for preventing nose bleeds and other circulatory issues include:
- Exhaling as you near the top of each rep
- Resetting your core and breathing between reps
- Not lifting very heavy weights for low reps
- Speaking to your doctor before deadlifting if you have high blood pressure
Common Deadlift Injuries – Wrapping Up
Personally speaking, it’s hard to think of an effective workout that doesn’t involve deadlifts.
It’s such a valuable exercise that almost everyone who exercises should do some type of deadlift.
That said, while the deadlift is mostly a beneficial exercise, it’s not without risks.
However, most of those risks can be avoided simply by using good exercise technique and staying within your limits.
Deadlifts CAN cause serious injuries, but those injuries are also relatively rare.
Exercise your common sense along with your muscles, and you should be able to enjoy many years of trouble-free deadlifting.
But, if you are unlucky enough to get injured, do your best to identify the cause, and then take steps to avoid doing it again.
Learn by your mistakes!
Finally, remember that discretion is often the better part of valor.
Doing one less rep or using a little less weight could be all you need to do to avoid deadlifting injuries.
As you have seen, one of the most essential ways to avoid these common deadlift injuries is to warm up thoroughly before you start a deadlift workout.
Because of the importance of getting your body ready for deadlifting and to prevent injury, I have put together this quick model – How to Warm Up for Deadlifts Properly in Four Easy Steps.
Another critical point mentioned above is to ensure that you allow your muscles to recover.
How Often Should You Deadlift Per Week – A Beginner’s Guide will provide you with more information on how to set up a safe and effective deadlift program.
Last but not least, if you have never deadlifted before, be sure to:
- answer the CSEP PAR Q; Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire
- review the results with your physician and ensure that you have no other underlying health conditions
- read and understand How to Deadlift for Beginners – A Step by Step Guide
- The 12 Best Deadlift Assistance Exercises to Fix Your Deadlifts
- Rack Pull vs Deadlift: The Differences, Benefits + How-To
- How Many Deadlift Reps and Sets Should You Do – A Beginners Guide
- 7 Deadlift Muscles Worked That Will Change Your Body & Life
- 37 Remarkable Benefits of Deadlifts to Unleash Your Fitness Fast
- 27 Sensational Ways How Deadlifts Change Your Body