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The Best (and Worst) Exercise Equipment for Back Pain

If you suffer from chronic back pain or have a spine injury, you don’t have to give up your gym membership. Exercise can actually help with your back pain, as long as you are focusing on the correct muscles and using the right equipment.

If back pain is a concern, try out these types of equipment at the gym. Remember, if any type of exercise causes more back pain, stop doing that exercise immediately.

Elliptical Trainer

Elliptical machines are great for people with back pain or joint pain because they put very little stress on the back and other joints. Elliptical machines offer low-impact cardio workouts. Most elliptical machines also allow you to adjust the incline and resistance settings, so you can work on different muscle groups as well. However, you should still incorporate some weight-bearing exercises into your routine if you use an elliptical trainer.

Stationary Bikes

The benefit of stationary bikes is that there are two types to choose from, so you can select the type that is most comfortable for you. People with conditions like osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis often find that upright exercise bikes are more comfortable because they allow the user to lean forward, which may provide relief from back pain caused by these conditions. Recumbent exercise bikes may be more comfortable for people with lower back pain or degenerative disc disease because they have a backrest that provides more support than an upright bike.

Stationary bikes provide a great aerobic workout and strengthen the lower body with little to no impact. However, because stationary bikes do not involve the upper body, you’ll want to make sure you also do exercises that work the upper body as well.


The treadmill can be good for people who are just getting back into exercising or are out of shape. You can change the settings like speed and incline to meet your needs and gradually work your way up to a more challenging workout. Treadmills provide a low-impact form of aerobic activity, and they may be easier to navigate than walking on a track or sidewalk, because you don’t have to worry about an uneven surface.

Weight Machines

Weight machines can be very helpful with upper body exercises, especially if you are using a stationary bike or other types of equipment that only work the lower body. Weight machines allow you to easily adjust the weight you are lifting. They also don’t require you to bend to lift the weight, as most free weights would, so it may be easier on your back.

Avoid These Machines

These machines can do more harm than good if you have back problems, so it’s best to avoid them.

Lying Leg Press

Although this machine is meant to work your legs, your lower back takes on a lot of the stress from lifting the weight. This causes the lower back to flex, which could put you at risk for a herniated disc or exacerbate other lower back problems.

Hip Abductor

Hip abductors can strain the spine as you work to squeeze them together or pull them apart while using the machine. If you want to work on your legs, you’re much better off using an elliptical machine, stationary bike, or treadmill.

Loaded Standing Calf Raise

This machine is intended to work your calves, but the weight rests on your shoulders during the workout. While it may make regular calf raises more challenging, having all of that weight on your shoulders puts too much stress on your spine.

When in doubt about an exercise machine, always check with your doctor first. If one type of machine doesn’t work for you, don’t get discouraged–there are plenty of others to try. Once you find the right exercise, you should benefit with less back pain.