# Biomechanical Analysis of the Deadlift (aka Spinal Mechanics for Lifters) Tony Leyland

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1 Biomechanical Analysis of the Deadlift (aka Spinal Mechanics for Lifters) Tony Leyland Mechanical terminology The three directions in which forces are applied to human tissues are compression, tension, and shear (shown in figure 1). In case you are wondering, bending places one side of the object in compression and the other in shear, and twisting (torsion) is just a type of shear. Figure 1. Terminology for directions of force. For this discussion on lumbar mechanics we do not need to focus on tension as it is as a force that tends to pull a tissue apart and is not relevant to our purposes. Our focus will be on compression and shear. Shear is defined as a force that acts parallel to a surface; in the spine, it can create sliding of one vertebra with respect to another. Figure 2 is a little busy but it helps illustrate many of the important concepts for this discussion. In a lift such as the deadlift, the weight being lifted and center of mass of the upper body and arms are a relatively long way from the vertebrae, and this creates a huge torque (moment of force) about the lumbar vertebrae. Although the vertebrae are a collection of joints, we can visualize that the disc between lumbar vertebrae 4 and 5 is the center of rotation for this force (the circle in figure 2). The line of action of the spinal erector musculature is a very short distance from the joint center of rotation (6-7 cm) inches) and hence these muscles must pull on the spine with hundreds of pounds of force to lift common loads (and well into the thousands of pounds when performing heavy deadlifts). Figure 2 also shows that the line of action of these muscles pulls the lumbar vertebrae together and creates compression between them. This can be hard to visualize, but when you effectively stabilize your lower body against the ground, the lower lumbar vertebrae are pushed upward from below and pulled downward by the muscles. This creates large compressive forces (again into the thousands of pounds when deadlifting).

2 In addition to creating a torque that wants to rotate the lifter forward (clockwise in the illustration), the load being lifting and weight of the upper body also act downward (gravitational pull). A component of this force acts as shear across the L4-L5 joint. It is this force that can be particularly problematic, as we will soon see. Torque due to Load and Upper Body Mass Muscle Force Compression Shear Figure 2. Torque and forces acting on the lumbar spine. Anatomy of the lumbar spine The anatomy of the spine is quite complex. However, to understand the need to maintain normal lumbar lordosis (curvature), all we really need to discuss is the line of action of the erector muscles and some of the ligaments that connect the vertebrae to one another (interspinous ligaments). Figure 2 shows the line of action of the muscles and you should be able to see that a component of this force acts to counteract the shear force, that is, it balances out the forces acting across the spine. Dr. Stuart McGill, a world-renowned spinal biomechanist from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, identifies two types of shear. The shear shown in figure 2 is called reaction shear and is the result of gravity pulling the load and the upper body downward. The closer your upper body moves to horizontal, the larger this force will be. However, the true shear on the L4-L5 joint (called the joint shear) is the resultant shear force produced by the sum of the reaction shear and the muscle/ligament shear. It is this value, which includes the effect of muscle/ligament forces, that represents the actual shear experienced at the L4- L5 joint. And it is clearly the true shear on the lumbar spine that will determine whether the spinal loading is manageable, or potentially injurious.

6 Figure 4. Deadlift (good form) Figure 5. Deadlift (poor form) Figure 6. Model of Figure 4 position Figure 7. Model of Figure 6 position but with a flexed lumbar spine

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