Back Pain vs. Back Soreness

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Anytime deadlifts get introduced into a new athlete’s program or when someone starts to get good at them, there is a comment that inevitably comes up.

“Deadlifts hurt my back so bad”

The second this phrase is uttered deadlifts start to take on a negative connotation. Back pain is bad, deadlifts cause back pain, so deadlifts are bad.

This could not be further from the truth. We need to start by first defining two terms.

Back Pain

Back pain can be a specific medical issue or non specific. This can often arise out of nowhere or sometimes a certain action can cause some issues.

There are a couple of factors that separate back pain from soreness.

Back pain often cannot be pinpointed or it hurts down on the SI joint, felt at the top of the tailbone. There can also be pain felt during normal motion like brushing teeth, vacuuming, and getting out of a chair.

This type of pain can be caused by about a thousand things and the cause matters for treatment but not for identifying it.

Back Soreness  

Soreness in the back is a way different story than pain.

The most simple way you can differentiate between soreness and pain is that soreness can be felt in the muscles. You can usually point to a direct point in the erector spinae and find where the muscles are sore. If I was to poke those muscles and you are really feeling it then you are sore and not in pain.

Soreness is normal. Soreness runs its course when new movements or are a new load is introduced. This is why a lot of first time deadlifters experience soreness the next 2 days. Nothing went wrong, your muscles just have to adapt to the new stimulus.

Soreness Can be a Pain

I will be the first to admit that back soreness is a huge pain… in the butt. Its annoying when bending over to pick things up are a chore. I don’t particularly enjoy it but it is usually short lived when training continues.

My first question is always “soreness or pain” when someone mentions back pain. They are handled two very different ways. Soreness can be trained through, pain needs to be managed.

Are Deadlifts the Enemy? 

Deadlifts are one of the hardest exercises to learn and new athletes don’t particularly like them.

I don’t have the answer to why younger athletes hate deadlifting. If I have to guess it would be one or a combination of the following:

  • Deadlifts cannot be cheated, you pick the bar up off of the ground and stand up
  • They have a total body effect and train most muscles in the body to perform them
  • They are difficult to master and take some work and focus

Most people want to do things that are easy. Any reason not to deadlift and people are going to find a reason not too. This is not true with people that have more experience or really enjoy lifting. I love deadlifts they are the one movement that I really prioritize.

I also know that when I go really heavy or when I go back to some volume, I am probably going to be sore.

I have had back pain before and hated that. Ever since my deadlift got really good (along with good core work and mobility) I have been pretty resilient to back pain.

Deadilfts are not the enemy. Soreness is not a bad thing. Pain is. Stay out of pain.