Despite what the name sounds like, Osgood Schlatter isn’t the name of a professional weightlifter from Germany. Osgood Schlatter (aka osteocondritis) is a condition of the knee wherein repeated stress from contraction of the quad muscles pulls on the immature tibial tuberosity (bony area at the top of the shin), causing pain, inflammation, and the formation of a bony bump at the front of the knee. This condition usually occurs in children ages 9-16, coinciding with a growth spurt and athletic activity such as soccer or basketball.
While many cases of Osgood Schlatter resolve in an athlete’s teenage years, there may be a resulting bump on the tibial tuberosity that never disappears. For most adults, the bump is merely an aesthetic nuisance or a minor irritation when kneeling. Unfortunately for several others, the bump is a constant source of discomfort during kneeling or whenever it receives an impact. If you are one of these adults, you have had the bump long enough to know your limits in terms of what you are comfortable kneeling on and for how long, and have developed shortcuts in many of your daily movements; from twisting a certain way to enter your car, to sitting on the appropriate side of an aisle opposite your knee bump in order to avoid an accidental impact. But there is one exercise in which, if you lose focus or if your form wavers, you risk a painful steel on bone impact: the DEADLIFT!
The deadlift is an amazing exercise for developing full body strength, and it would be a shame to throw it out if you can find a work-around. The most common workaround that people do (holding the bar a mile away from the shins to avoid potential contact), however, is dangerous for the low back, so the purpose of this article is to describe some alternate ways to do the deadlift with Osgood Schlatters.
Hex bar deadlifts
Deadlifts with the hex bar (aka trap bar) will draw focus from the glutes and hamstrings, to be shared by the quads. It’s not inherently bad to strengthen your quads, we just have to make sure we’re doing another exercise to focus directly on the glutes and hamstrings (barbell glut bridges, straight leg deadlifts, hamstring eccentrics on the Valslides, etc) so that we don’t become quad dominant.
The deadlift with the hex bar allows you to stand within the borders of the apparatus, so that your knees and shins are totally clear of the bar. You will need to pay special attention to your form at the top of the lift, to assure that you aren’t hyperextending your lower back. With a traditional deadlift, the barbell provides your hips a natural stopping point, whereas with the hex bar, your hips are free to swing way forward (if you let them).
Specific alternate hand grip
When most people try the the mixed hand (alternate hand) grip, they will naturally take an overhand grip with their dominant hand and an underhand grip with their weaker side. Is this appropriate for deadlifting with OS? It depends which side your bump is on. If the bump is on your left knee, selecting an overhand grip with your left hand will allow you to guide the bar slightly out in front of your knee to clear your bump on the way up and again on the way down. If you’ve been deadlifting for a long time with the opposite grip, it may take some time to get used to. Remember you aren’t bicep curling the bar up, you are deadlifting it. Keep your elbows locked with your arms straight to help you use your lower body and avoid temptation to assist with your arms (and risk bicep injury).
Neoprene knee sleeve
For lifters with just a small (or less tender) Osgood Schlatter bump, a knee sleeve may be all you need to prevent accidental contact with the bar. Most of the time you won’t actually hit your shin with the bar, it’s more often the fear of hitting your shin that interferes with successful deadlifting. A neoprene knee sleeve can assist you mentally so that you can get rid of the fear that bumping your “bump” will be excessively painful.
Get your form checked
For lifters who do not have Osgood Schlatter, there is a bit of wiggle room in terms of correct form. As long as you aren’t rounding your low back and you lock your elbows, you can generally pick up a fair amount of weight without the thought of injury crossing your mind. When you have Osgood Schlatter, you will need to really dial in your form. Bending your knees a split second early on the lowering phase or failing to push your hips back that extra half inch can result in a painful smash against your tibial tuberosity. Once you are familiar with basic form (one good resources is the book “Starting Strength” by Mark Rippetoe), consider hiring a trainer or CSCS coach to check your form and help you perfect your alignment and biomechanics so that the lift feels comfortable (to the extent possible) for you!. It is possible to deadlift safely and also allow the bar to clear your bump!
Start light when practicing your new form. Even if you think you should be able to deadlift 225, a 45-lb bar isn’t too light to practice with until you develop the muscle memory to confidently deadlift without your Osgood Schlatter bump getting in the way.
Some general tips that can help with your deadlifting form:
*Chest forward (show off your cool shirt!)
*Look straight ahead
*Big inhale on the way down, exhale on your way up
*Lean back into your heels to get the lift started
*As soon as the bar clears your bump (not your kneecaps), straighten your knees
*Push your hips forward against the bar at the top
*Bend your knees as soon as the bar clears your bump on the lowering phase
You CAN deadlift even if you have a bump remaining from Osgood Schlatter in your teen years. Try these tips and be confident that it is possible! Increase the weight slowly, and make sure your form is 100% perfect before adding more weight. Please let us know if you have any questions about deadlifting or other strength exercises; we are here to help you stay active and feel balanced!