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Is Walking on a Treadmill Bad for Your Back?

by
author image Shannon George
Shannon George, former editor-in-chief of the trade magazine "Prime," holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from San Diego State University. Her health interests include vegetarian nutrition, weight training, yoga and training for foot races.
Is Walking on a Treadmill Bad for Your Back?
A close-up of a woman walking on a treadmill at the gym. Photo Credit YanLev/iStock/Getty Images

Walking on a treadmill is not bad for your back. In fact, treadmill walking may be the perfect exercise for both easing existing back pain and preventing new injuries. Walking on a treadmill is a safe, gentle way to strengthen the muscles that support the spine, improve your bone health, lose excess weight that can cause back injury, and stimulate your brain to release pain-relieving hormones.

Walking and Back Pain

Gentle exercise such as walking or swimming may be the most effective way to recover from low back pain. Walking causes your brain to release endorphins that help counter pain, while also strengthening the muscles that support the structure of your back. While acute back pain may require up to two days of bed rest, the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke recommends getting up and moving as soon as you are able, as back pain can be made worse from being too sedentary. You may experience some discomfort when you first begin walking, but this should subside as you build muscle strength. However, it is best to stop exercising and consult a doctor if you experience numbness or severe pain when walking.

Walking and Spinal Injury Prevention

In addition to speeding your recovery, walking, along with other exercises that don't jolt or strain the back, can actually help prevent back injuries from occurring by improving your strength, stability and flexibility, especially in people with spinal irregularities. Because it is a weight-bearing exercise, walking also improves bone health more so than low-impact activities like swimming or cycling. Furthermore, the cardiovascular benefits of walking can help you maintain a healthy weight, which places less stress on the lower back muscles, leaving you susceptible to injury.

Treadmill Walking Tips

Although walking on a treadmill is safer than many other forms of exercise, it is still important to practice good technique in order to prevent injury and build up your endurance. Before getting on the treadmill, you should put on closed-toe athletic shoes and do a few minutes of gentle stretching. Once on the treadmill, start at a slow, easy speed for the first few minutes, and gradually raise the speed to a more moderate pace that elevates your heart rate. However, you shouldn't increase the machine's speed so high that you have to hold onto the guardrails to keep pace, as this can cause injury. When walking on a treadmill, your gait should be easy and natural, as it would be if you were walking outside. Lastly, you should keep the incline of the treadmill flat while you are recovering from back pain, as walking on an incline causes you to lean forward, putting strain on the lower back.

Other Exercises for Back Health

Besides treadmill walking, other exercises that may benefit people with back problems include stretching, yoga and other low-impact cardio activities like swimming or cycling. In particular, exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles in the abdomen and spine can help prevent back problems. Some examples of good exercises for low back pain include the lying supine hamstring stretch, the cat stretch, the camel stretch, the pelvic tilt, the partial curl and prone hip extension, according to the University of Michigan Health System. Walking on a treadmill for five to 10 minutes prior to performing any of these exercises can help warm up your muscles to reduce your risk of injury. Types of exercise to avoid if you have back problems include any exercise that puts strain on the lower back and sports that involve rough contact, twisting or sudden impact.

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