Our expert says:
It's almost certainly the technique - remember, when you do the deadlift, a great deal of torque is being placed on the back, it's at least partially responsible for coping with that load and if you are not careful, then it takes up too much of the weight and that puts enormous strain on the back and spine. It's the same sort of analogy as when you pick up a suitcase - you don't reach out for it with your arm straight and try to pick it up. Instead, you stand next to it and use your legs to help you pick up the weight. The point is, if your technique is not ideal, then you have problems. What happens, very briefly, is that if you don't keep your back straight during the movement, then there is a great deal of stress on the spinal discs, forcing the internal fluids to compress towards the back, and potentially causing at least one herniated disc. This is especially true of the lumbar region of the spine, which is designed to bear the bulk of the compressive forces on the upper body (cervical is much higher up, at the neck, so it's the lumbar, not cervical that is most at risk). So the key is to keep the back straight as possible, to lock it up (there are techniques for this, including breathing exercises), and to stabilize the spine using the ab muscles.
And while i don't believe that deadlifts themselves are very dangerous, they are potentially tricky. They are in fact one of the most effective exercises, but if done incorrectly, can be one of the more hazardous, and are therefore one of the more advanced level of exercise. It sounds to me that you are doing them straight off the bat, and with the fact that you now have three previous injuries, there's not only risk, but previous weakness and previous damage there. So all in all, I'd look at alternatives to deadlifts for a while, until your back is properly recovered. The options to consider are the leg curls for the hamstrings, as suggested, and any exercise that supports your back - remember, the deadlift is a compound movement, using all the muscles, and so any specific exercises you can find to target the quads, back etc will be suitable replacements. I think you may be trying the deadlift a bit too soon, given your injury concerns.
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