Lower back pain can get in the way of individuals enjoying their favorite activities, such as playing sports or going to the gym. Having a fitness regime interrupted can be frustrating, and there is often the temptation to power through the pain. However, while some exercises can help with recovery from certain injuries, others can simply exacerbate the condition.

The fitness boom really arrived in the 1980s when people started to take more of an interest in their health and gyms started sprouting up across the states. There are over 41,000 gyms and health or fitness centers in the US now, and around 73.6 million people were using these facilities in 2020.

The reasons for attending gyms are often to lose weight, improve mental well-being, tone up, and get fitter. Gyms today are fitted with superior equipment than in the past, and treadmills, rowing machines, and ellipticals are all popular.

If you are one of the many people suffering from lower back pain right now, is it safe to use gym equipment, and in particular, an elliptical trainer?

What Causes Lower Back Pain?

A staggering 7.5% of the world’s population is believed to suffer from lower back pain. In the states, this equates to around 16 million people or 8% of the population.

The Ideal Health and Wellness Center treats the causes of lower back pain which can include sciatica, slipped disc, or muscle strain. Arthritis, osteoporosis, ligament strains, and ruptured discs can all cause lower back pain.

Sports injuries, occupational injuries, and accidents, in general, can cause muscle, ligament, or spinal injuries. If certain tendons or joints are damaged or inflamed then this too can result in lower back pain.

Chiropractors help with lower back pain by realigning the spine and joints. Uneven hips for instance can be another cause of pain in the lower back, and realignment can help. As can some exercises.

Why Use An Elliptical?

An elliptical trainer is a highly popular piece of equipment that is seen in most gyms. Many individuals purchase ellipticals for home workouts too. This type of trainer is especially useful for improving cardio, and stamina. An elliptical trainer helps to work out the upper and lower body and is good for burning calories, and body fat.

Cardio is an essential part of any fitness regime, and it brings with it some great health benefits. Cardo can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by over 50%. It also helps to reduce blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, and even improve sleep patterns.

Anyone suffering from lower back pain, or any type of injury will need to be careful with the exercises they do. Some gentle exercises for back pain recovery include yoga, pilates, and swimming, but high-impact workouts can worsen symptoms.

Will An Elliptical Trainer Help With Lower Back Pain?

An elliptical trainer can be less stressful on the body than a treadmill can be. Running or jogging in a gym or outdoors can put a lot of stress on various joints.

Any high-impact workout can see your knees, ankles, and hips, taking something of a pounding. The soles of your feet never lift off the pedals on an elliptical so there is far less stress on your joints.

According to SpineUniverse, elliptical trainers can be well tolerated as they can be set to low impact. However, some conditions such as sciatica can be aggravated if the machine is set to high resistance.

So, Are Elliptical Trainers Bad For Lower Back Pain?

Workouts are often described as high-impact, or low-impact, as they have been above. But, an elliptical trainer offers something of a no-impact workout. Because your feet never lift off the pedals, there is no impact or stress placed on any joints.

However, there are other factors to consider. An elliptical machine tends to make the user lean forward slightly more than they would when walking. This spinal flexion can be good for some people with back pain, but it could aggravate conditions such as herniated discs.

Apart from poor posture, an elliptical may make the user twist their spine more than they would when walking too. The combination of flexion and twisting could cause increased back pain, and worsen conditions such as disc problems or osteoporosis.

Elliptical machines could be good for some people with lower back pain as they offer a minimal impact workout. An elliptical can help to strengthen back muscles, and this can help avoid further back problems. However, an elliptical may worsen certain causes of back pain.

Certainly, patients with disc problems and osteoporosis should be careful when considering using an elliptical trainer. But if used for low resistance, then the elliptical could be beneficial to sciatica sufferers for instance. The best advice would be to consult with a chiropractor or doctor before using any gym equipment including the elliptical.

What Are The Best Treatments And Exercises For Lower Back Pain?

Depending on what the cause is of your back pain, you may find walking is more beneficial and less damaging than an elliptical trainer.

Swimming is considered a good choice for lower back pain sufferers. This is because swimming can help to strengthen supporting muscles without putting stress on joints or the spine.

Wear and tear occur as the years go by, and over 50-year-olds are more susceptible to lower back problems. To this end, the AARP recommends exercises for lower back pain that involve yoga poses and stretches. Stretching before exercising is very important to ensure back problems aren’t created or worsened, and certain stretches can help to strengthen the lower back muscles.

Start any exercise off with short sessions and build up over time. Choose low-impact exercises, stretch, and avoid twisting or over-flexing.

Is The Elliptical Useful For Other Conditions?

Combining cardio and strength building is the optimum way to improve your home workout. And, it can be very frustrating to have your activities hampered by any type of injury or back problem.

The elliptical machine is excellent for improving cardio so while it may make some back problems worse, it could help with other conditions. The low-impact nature of an elliptical means that it would be a gentler option than cycling for anyone with sciatica.

Anyone with hip problems may benefit from using an elliptical due to the reduced amount of hip extension needed compared to walking. The flexion necessary for using an elliptical can also help with hip injuries. Someone with lumbar joint problems will also find being in a flexed position preferable when exercising. Ellipticals are also a good way to exercise for anyone with knee pain due to the lack of stress and impact.


Ellipticals can represent a good option for a low-impact workout for someone with lower back problems. But, there is the possibility that an elliptical trainer could aggravate symptoms and make some conditions worse.

Spinal flexion and twisting from using an elliptical could cause further pain for anyone with a herniated disc. Osteoporosis sufferers may find the elliptical a good choice as long as it is set to low resistance. But, the bottom line is that if you have back pain or a back condition, then you should consult with a doctor or chiropractor before riding an elliptical.