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Hi there! It’s Kathleen again, and today, I want to talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart. OK, it’s a bit lower down, but you know what I mean, back pain.
Today, I want to address running or walking on a treadmill, and what type of impact it can have on your lower back muscles.
I injured my back a few years ago and thought that after a few weeks, I would be able to return to my beloved treadmill. That was what I thought, anyway, but it didn’t happen.
Do you have back pain now? If you are wondering whether your treadmill is making it worse or causing it in the first place, this article is for you.
Let me add that I am not a doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist. You should always seek out medical advice if you are in pain to ensure that you don’t do more damage to your body.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about treadmills and what you can do to stop lower back pain.
Table of Contents
Is a Treadmill Bad for Lower Back Pain?
If you already have low back pain, a treadmill can be a great way to get in exercise if it doesn’t bother you.
However, you will probably find that using the incline variance feature can cause your pain to increase. This is because the incline feature puts a great deal of strain on your lower back.
I know, you are thinking, “People have been walking uphill for centuries without back problems, so why does the incline on my treadmill hurt my back?”
Great question. It’s true, our ancestors walked uphill all the time without issues but here’s the catch – they didn’t sit in their butts most of the day.
Our ancestors walked just about everywhere, did household chores, took care of the kids, did physical labor (such as farming or construction) during daylight hours. This type of all-day movement gave them strong backs, strong core muscles, and no back pain (generally speaking, of course).
Today, we spend most of our working day sitting down. We commute sitting down, we watch TV sitting down, and we spend hours sitting even longer as we look at our phones and tablets.
All that sitting not only puts a strain on our lower back muscles, but we also often add poor posture to the mix, which is like adding a 10-pound weight to all that strain.
Yes, we try to add 30 minutes of treadmill walking each day, but that really isn’t enough to counteract all our hours spent sitting.
If using the treadmill is causing back pain, it’s unlikely that more walking or treadmill use is going to reduce that. You need to address the source of your pain first.
I do recommend that you see a physical therapist or a chiropractor before you begin any exercise program. Speak with them about which type of exercise machine might help relieve your back pain, and after you’ve had a thorough evaluation, you will be better prepared to improve your overall health.
Does the Treadmill Incline Hurt Your Back?
It can, yes.
The incline feature is a terrific way to build a beautiful peach and improve your cardiovascular health, but it also puts a lot of pressure on your lower back.
Many people enjoy running outdoors because of the different types of inclines, but no matter how padded a treadmill might be, the incline option puts strain on your lower back.
If you are in excellent physical shape and you regularly exercise, you should be just fine doing a treadmill workout with an incline.
However, if you have pinched nerves, a herniated disc, or other issues, you may find that running on a treadmill or even walking on a treadmill, with or without the incline, just puts more pressure on your back.
Nearly all quality treadmill manufacturers have treadmill bars to prevent you from losing your balance. You might try holding on to the bars and see if you can relieve some of the pressure, but you might do better to just skip the treadmill altogether and try something else to reach a new fitness level.
What Is the Best Exercise Machine for Lower Back Problems?
This will depend on where your back pain is and what the root cause is.
In general, whatever type of exercise routine that you can do without hurting your back is the one that you should go for.
If you’re anything like me, I had to completely ditch my running routine for probably more than a year after I injured my lower back.
My physical therapists had me try several different machines to see what I could tolerate. Everyone is different, right?
I started off with a seated elliptical called the Teeter FreeStep LT3. This exercise machine is super effective and super comfortable! I never imagined that sitting down and resting my back on the backrest could still give me a good workout.
I did try a stationary bike, but I find them boring. I also tend to push myself with my exercise goals, and had my upper body hunched over the handlebars, which actually started causing me pain in my upper back muscles. LOL. Leave it to me to overdo everything!
Stretching and Decompressing on an Inversion Table
I also discovered that one of the best ways to find pain relief was on the inversion table. I loved it when my physical therapist would put me on the inversion table because I could always find relief in minutes.
Imagine my surprise when I found that Teeter, the same company that made the elliptical I had been using, also made an inversion table.
I truly believe that the FitSpine LX9 Inversion Table was the turning point for me, both literally and figuratively. I had trouble finding pain relief through my new exercise routine but with the inversion table, I knew that the Acupressure nodes would release any knots in my muscles and allow my lower back to relax.
There are padded locks to prevent damage or excessive pressure to the ankle joints. You simply strap your legs in, put an arm over your head, and let gravity do the rest.
I stopped being afraid to try different exercises, and this return to a more normal posture helped my back problem heal itself.
I still use my Teeter FitSpine LX9. Not every day like I used to, but at least once a week. It feels so good, you just can’t imagine what it can do to help most back conditions.
There is one more exercise machine that I recommend to those with back pain- and if you’ve read any of my blog posts before, then you already know what I’m about to tell you.
Besides an Elliptical, What Is the Best Exercise Machine for a Bad Back?
Now this might not be true for everyone, and you certainly have to use the proper form when using it, but I discovered that a rowing machine was about the only machine (besides the seated elliptical) that didn’t hurt my back.
If you love aerobic activity and you want to do interval training and return to good posture, a rowing machine might be what you are looking for.
I especially love my Ergatta. Not only does it keep me motivated, it also keeps me entertained. If you’ve never used a rowing machine before, you don’t have to worry! Ergatta has a complete ‘from Couch to 1K’ program just for beginners.
You can learn how to properly do the strokes and slowly work yourself up to new fitness levels. I love that rowing is strength training and cardio in one machine. You can watch television, listen to music, or watch game-based exercise programs. You can even challenge your friends to race against you.
If you would prefer a rowing machine that offers upbeat, world-class instructors, you can always check out the Hydrow. This futuristic machine also has tons of off-the-rower workouts that are good for your back, including yoga, Pilates, and foam rolling.
No matter what type of rowing machine you enjoy using, one thing is certain, you will work every single muscle group in your body, including your core muscles, which will go a long way towards reducing your back pain.
The Final Takeaway
At the end of the day, everyone’s injury or health issue is different and what works for one person doesn’t always work for someone else.
If you want to avoid the repetitive impact and stress that treadmills typically cause, try an elliptical. Seated or regular standing ellipticals use the same movement as walking does but with less pressure and stress on your joints.
You could also try a rowing machine. While most individuals notice some tightness in their backs when they first start, some stretching programs often relieve any pain or discomfort caused by the learning curve.
Throw out all that treadmill training and treadmill exercise and find an exercise machine that doesn’t hurt your back!
If you have chronic pain, see your doctor or physical therapist. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t cause yourself further pain and/or more damage by trying to use an exercise machine without the approval of your health care professional.
Stay happy and healthy, friends! Life is too short for anything else!
Written by Kathleen Langdon – TheHealthPot.com Founder
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES)
Kathleen, a mother of two, struggled with ongoing weight and health issues. She created this website after she turned her life around. She built Thehealthpot.com to help inspire and motivate others with their fitness goals. Read more about Kathleen here.