Dead lifting can be a real headache!

14 APR

Dead lifting can be a real headache!

By Dean Phelps on Tuesday, 14th of April    Tag: Deadlift, Headache, Hinge Effect, Pain, Poor Form,

This is something I see a fair bit in cross fitters, powerlifters and gym enthusiasts that I thought i would share to help others out

Have you ever had an issue with lifting?? 

I thought I would share this interesting case and one that I see from time to time. Getting a headache during and/or after a dead lift session.

This type of headache is cervicogenic, or from the neck. It is a positional issue of the head, neck and chin withing the lift and something that is quiet easily fixed.

Problem: The Set Up!

As you can see in the pictures below the starting position of the lift has the neck is in a great deal of lordosis or extension (A), and the chin is in a very protracted or poked position (B). The arrow in pic A points to a crease in the soft tissue or a hinge effect in the set up of the lift. This is an area of the spine that is about to be over loaded.

A: Hinge effect noted in the soft tissue of lower cervcial spine increasing load on passive structures even before there is tension on the bar.

B: Protracted chin position from poor neck flexor activation, increasing upper cervical extension and load through the cervical spine during the set up.

As tension moves onto the bar

As we move into the start of the lift where tension is placed across the bar we see a shift in the position on the chin forward (C) and an increase in this hinge effect (D). This is in fact causing a loss in the optimal alignment of the spine and a sheering affect across the lower cervical spine and placing a huge load across this area, effectively trying the lift the weight of the bar with the neck rather then the whole system (body).

C: Chin moves forward

D: 'Hinge' effect is increased in the above soft tissue structures increasing the load through this area.

E: Optimal alignment is lost in the whole system and a weakness is seen. Posterior chain is in a shortened position and anterior chain lengthened in the neck.

The Problem: PAIN

The above can cause two or three things.

  1. Pain in the neck
  2. A cervicogenic headache
  3. Or BOTH!

The Solution: Maintain optimal form

Now with the dead lift, it is important that the whole spine begins in a neutral position and remains in that position through out the lift. This provides an even distribution of load across the torso and spine to produce power from the hip and knee to lift the bar. The only hinge you should see are in the ankle, knee and hip from side on.

If you happen to break form at any level, be it within the throax, lumbar or cervical spine (as seen above) you have lost control of the lift, lost power and have potentially over loaded an area. This area will eventually start screaming at you that it hurts.

Yes I know you have heard that you need to look up so that you don’t fall forward, lift it in the direction your looking etc etc. Fair point, however why would you compromise one thing and be in pain to achieve another? Can't your look up without your neck?

So here is a few small changes to begin with. For the nit pickers these pics are still not perfect, nothing is after one session. But it is a start in the right direction, one that has immediately resulted in NOT ONE headache after lifting. We will continue to make improvements over a few more sessions and I know her 1RM will improve too because she will be lifting from a solid foundation, not a weakened structure.

Here some pics of what we changed! Pre is on the left, post on the right!

F: Set up originally on the left compared with a neurtral neck and chin position on the right.

G: First pull with initial tension on the bar the neck and chin position remain neutral without the 'hinge' effect in the neck and change in soft tissue (R pic)

H: Suboptimal set up on the left, optimal set up with spine stacked and neutral ready to disperse load.

I: Visual Gaze; you can still look upward, just not to the point it impacts on your neck and chin position.

If your having any issues with your dead lift or need a lifting assessment completed feel free to contact me here or book a consult for a LIFT Assessment at Fighting Fit (click here)


Dean Phelps - Head Physiotherapy

Dean is a registered Gold Coast Physiotherapist with undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Human Movement and Exercise Science. His background has developed his vision for Fighting Fit Physiotherapy to focus on optimal health and peak physical performance for every single patient. Utilising his many qualifications, in depth knowledge of the body and passion for exercise he can provide a holistic approach to your treatment and exercise prescription to get the best outcome.


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