Do you think that looking up in a deadlift could result in damage of the intervertebral discs by multiplying “micro traumas” or cause some another obstruction? Short-term and long-term consequences…
Dr. NICHOLAS LICAMELI: Is looking up during a deadlift a big deal in the short-term?
As with many topics in exercise science, I think the answer lies in a gray area. It always depends on the individual. I think Tony Gentilcore hit the nail on the head when he said that some people have to “earn the right to deviate from ‘good’ technique.” Hard extension of the cervical spine (just like in the lumbar spine) is probably never a good thing, but will a slight deviation from neutral in an experienced lifter cause the spine to break into a million pieces? Probably not 🙂 .
Is looking up during a deadlift a big deal in the long-term?
From a purely structural standpoint, extension of the cervical spine causes compression of the intervertebral foramen and nerves exiting the spinal column. Does that mean that we should always avoid extension? NO! It just means that the nature of the movement causes compression. Studies show very high amounts of compressive forces exist through the patella when negotiating stairs. Does that mean we should avoid stairs? NO! Our bodies are able to handle the stress and function perfectly fine.
Although I have not come across any specific studies that have examined the long term effects of repeated cervical extension while lifting heavy loads (as when deadlifting), it seems logical that repeated compression of the joints and neural tissues of the neck would eventually result in pathology. I would speculate that repeated cervical extension would eventually cause both arthritic changes and nerve damage, resulting in conditions such as chronic muscle spasm, arthritis, stenosis, degenerative discs, and cervical radiculopathy.
Joints are mechanical structures and forcefully taking them into end range will likely cause damage. Will slamming on your brakes cause your brakes to…well…break? NO! Will slamming on your brakes every time you want to stop your car over the course of 30 years eventually cause some issues? Probably. But why do it in the first place?
Nerves are like garden hoses. Step on one end, and less water comes out the other end. When nerves are compressed for prolonged periods of time, the damage can become permanent. Will stepping on a hose a few times cause permanent damage to the flow of water? NO! Will restricting the flow of water repeatedly for 30 years cause significantly less water to flow? Most likely. But why even step on the hose?
Will extending your neck during a deadlift over time cause pathology of the cervical spine? Maybe. But if there’s a chance, why do it?
****I understand that competitive power lifters may use cervical extension to create a shortened lever arm and mechanical advantage. In a sport like power lifting, every little bit counts. If this is the case, perhaps consider training with a close to neutral cervical spine and save the extension for competition. This is just my opinion, as I am a bodybuilder, not a power lifter.
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Every single thing he does, Nick believes in giving himself to others in an attempt to make the world a happier, healthier, and more loving place. He wants to give people the power to change their lives. Bodybuilding and physical therapy serve as ways to carry out that cause. His knowledge of sport and exercise biomechanics, movement quality, and the practical application of research combined with personal experience in bodybuilding and nutrition allows him to help people in truly unique ways. Love. Passion. Respect. Humility. Never an expert. Always a student. Love your journey.