Lifting out of Pain

By Dan Williams

In Medical/Injuries

November 12, 2010

PDF Article

Dan Williams presents a case for complex weightlifting movements as a safe, efficient and effective method for rehabilitation and prevention of lower-back pain: a proposed treatment methodology and review of the literature.

I propose that the rehabilitation and prevention of non-specific lower-back pain is dependent on the mechanically correct patterning of fundamental human movement. Though not immediately apparent, elements of Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting neatly fulfill this required motor patterning.

Controversial? Perhaps, but there is no place for contrived and invented movements in creating a buffer from injury. These movements are natural and are “no more contrived than a sneeze,” to quote Greg Glassman.

Let me first outline my empirically based philosophies on the matter, then review the literature supporting these concepts.



9 Comments on “Lifting out of Pain”


wrote …

Great article! I could have used it months ago! I hurt my low back last december and it did not show significant improvement until i started a linear progression of deadlifts in may. months of weird ab excercises did basicly nothing (despite my doctors assurance to the contrary). I hope this article finds a wide audience as from my point of view it is invaluable.


wrote …

Dan - Up until today I felt like my own one-person case study, so it's exciting to see this described in your outstanding article. It precisely reflects my own experience with life long back pain, eventual injury, surgery, degenerative disc disease, and really awful muscle recruitment patterns. 8 years ago, I had to start rebuilding movement pretty much from scratch. You can imagine the scepticism from those around me who thought a middle-aged mom with a history of significant spinal pathology shouldn't be doing the olympic lifts or working with kettlebells! Learning complex lifts such as the clean helped so much. I am now pain free. Your concept is spot on, and the comment regarding segmental training leading to segmental performance is so true. Oh, and another great side effect of this journey is a mid-life carreer change from research science to physical therapy as a PTA! Thank you for the great article.


wrote …

Whee! Congrats on another great article. I've only just skimmed it but will come back and read it properly later today. This topic is EXACTLY the reason I will be chasing you up for my lower back issues. I love the CrossFit concept but like Lynn's 'awful muscle recruitment patterns', mine need significant retraining that I just haven't been able to get elsewhere. Pilates has helped a fair bit, strapping with Rock Tape has helped the most, but I can't rely on tape forever.

U rock.



wrote …

I consult with three CF gyms in St. Louis and a major running chain. Two different style of athlete, but guess where they all start... box/chair squat. I ditched the "isolation" rehab when I saw how frustrated patients would get, then just end up back in the office anyway. The more efficiently functional they can get, the better results they have, the more they can do. Like I said, perfect article that should find its way to the desk of any conservative care professional.


wrote …

I think doctors like to stay on the safe side, so they will never advise you to do something that - when done incorrectly - have the potential to cause serious problems. Therefore they will never advise you to learn the oly lifts or the deadlift. If you don't learn the techniqe, if you don't practice enough, if you don't do a proper warm-up and you go heavy, you can hurt your back badly. There is no such risk with conservative treatment. So even though functional movements enable a better and shorter rehab, you should not forget about the risks.
I am not trying to say that you should stay away from functional movements (Would I be reading this article, if I were on that opinion?), but I think there should be more emphasis on proper form. In the article, not in the Journal, because there is plenty.


wrote …

It does work. I hurt my lower back when I was 28 years old. To relieve my back pain, I went to chiropractors, did physical therapy, and begain Pilates. So 18 months ago, I came to CrossFit in decent shape and with a solid core. I retrained my muscles by learning proper form for air squat, dead lift, overhead squat and some basic Olympic lifts. I've gained flexibility, balance and strength and an unexpected result is a stronger back and a right big toe that does not go numb anymore.

Many thanks,



wrote …

Well done. I currently suffer from lower back pain. Your article gives me hope.


wrote …

I have no medical expertise to draw from, but I am a case study. I had low back pain for over ten years. It prevented me from finishing races as a competitive cyclist and caused me to limit the activities I engaged in.

I started working out at CrossFit Fort Bragg with Michelle Benedict, who has a strong oly lift background. I expressed a lot of concern early on about how my back felt and what had happened to me in the past. I stuck with it though, and with a lot of good coaching, my form improved tremendously over ~2 years and the pain went away. Even though I have not always been consistent with oly lift workouts since, I have not had a recurrence of lower back pain.

I had tried a variety of other kinds of workouts, military and otherwise, but it was not until I started doing oly lifts and working on good form that anything changed for me. My experience bears out the conclusions in the article, and my active life has changed for the better.


wrote …

You didn't mention calf raises Dan! Very disappointed. No program is complete without them ;-)

Congrats on another fine article and compelling argument brother. Not sure how Bec would feel about the pic though! ;-) Totally agree with everything you've raised mate. I've lost count of how many clients have completely solved their long-term back issues by lifting.

The Cell
CrossFit Endurance Australia

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