Deadlifting: The Rehab Staple

Nov 25, 2022 | Strength & Conditioning

Women in gym setting up a loaded a barbell deadlift
Back, knee, and/or ankle pain got you down? Don’t let it stop you from achieving your goals. The deadlift might seem out of your league when dealing with injury, but it can actually speed up your recovery process and prevent future injuries from happening again.

Dr. Matthew Styf, PT, DPT is a certified clinical orthopedic specialist and S&C specialist based out of Massachusetts. He’s passionate about athletes of all ages achieving their fitness goals, whatever they may be. As a rehab professional, he offers a unique view of the use of the deadlift and how empowering it can be for an injured patient or athlete.

Matthew Styf
Dr. Matthew Styf

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Correctly Deadlifting Is Totally Safe

Historically, the deadlift has a bad reputation, especially in the rehab world. Just the word “deadlift” scares the older generation of rehab professionals. This probably isn’t because the lift itself is dangerous, though. It’s likely because many people use improper form and try to lift too heavy.

But in all reality, the deadlift is a great exercise that assists with rehab and training.

The traditional deadlift on its own provides many full-body benefits, but its ability to be modified and progressed makes it an especially useful tool in rehabbing specific injuries.

What Deadlift Variation Do You Need?

You don’t need to be “team conventional” or “team sumo” or “team trap bar,” you just need to know which deadlift variation is going to benefit you the most. Anatomical differences between athletes affect which modification you should do, in addition to your ability to maintain a proper hinge position when loaded.

Important: First and foremost, you need to know how to properly hip hinge before moving into any deadlift variation. The hip hinge is paramount for preventing injury and getting the maximum benefit from your lift.

Increase Ankle Mobility & Stability

Ankle mobility is needed for many everyday movements, from squatting to simply taking a walk. If you lack ankle mobility, your body will compensate in other ways, wreaking havoc on your joints and potentially causing hip, knee, and low-back injuries.

Conventional, sumo, and trap bar deadlifts all provide great benefits for ankle stability as they require dorsiflexion of the ankle and improve posterior chain strength. To build balance and further challenge yourself, give one-legged deadlifts a try.

Coach’s tip: Make sure you brace your abdominals and create tension before lifting (like you’re about to be punched in the stomach). Also, remember to hinge your hips to create tension in your posterior chain for the best results.

Protect Your Knees

Deadlifts strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, which protect the ligaments of your knee from serious injury. The single-leg landmine deadlift works wonders for your knee health as it challenges your balance and reinforces your knee joints.

Romanian deadlifts are also a great option if other deadlift variations hurt your knees. RDLs zero in on your glutes and hamstrings, further strengthening those ligaments surrounding your knees.

Eliminate Back Pain

Whenever a client mentions back pain as their primary injury or complaint, I make sure some form of deadlifting shows up in their plan of care or program.

When you’re in constant fear of movement due to back pain, your training suffers and it becomes difficult to enjoy daily life. Deadlifting improves core stability and strengthens lumbar muscles, which could put your training (and life!) back on track.

If you suffer from back pain, the idea of flexing forward or bending over might make you cringe. But as long as you learn how to hip hinge and load safely, the deadlift is perfectly safe.

Improve Mobility

If you struggle with mobility (especially in your hamstrings), try starting with an elevated setup or a trap bar. These modifications limit the mobility needed to execute the lift while still strengthening your posterior chain.

As you get better, slowly progress to a conventional or low handle trap bar deadlift.

Don’t let your injuries make you shy away from the deadlift. The deadlift is an essential movement that should be used by all athletes to improve stability, balance, mobility, and strength.

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