Are Elliptical Trainers Good for Herniated Discs?

Utilize an elliptical with good form.

The spinal column consists of a series of small bones called vertebrae. Between each vertebra is an area of soft tissue called a disc, which acts as a cushion. When a disc becomes herniated, or slipped, it sticks out and causes pressure on the nerves near the backbone. This, in turn causes pain and stiffness which is most often felt in the lower back area. Elliptical trainers are cardio machines that simulate cross country skiing. Not only are they effective for heart health, but they also have an effect on the back.


Motion of Elliptical Training

When you step onto an elliptical trainer, you place your feet on pedals that move back and forth in a gliding motion. During a complete workout, your feet never leave these pedals. This makes elliptical training a low-impact form of aerobic exercise. According to Spine-Health, aerobic exercise speeds up healing to the lower back by increasing blood flow and nutrients to back structures. The key thing is impact. An exercise form like running would not be advisable because of the force it conveys to the spinal column.


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Proper Form

Although elliptical trainers do not cause much impact, you still need to pay attention to your form when you use them. If you are hunched forward, you will place excess stress on your spine and likely exacerbate pain. Once you place your feet on the pedals, grasp the poles firmly with your hands at chest-height. Keep your eyes looking forward and shoulders broad as you move your arms and legs back and forth. Do this in a smooth motion and keep your abs tight to maintain good posture.


Weight Loss

Another benefit of the elliptical is that it burns calories. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, having an excessive amount of weight, especially in the stomach, can cause excess strain on the lower back. If you do have stomach fat and a herniated disc, aim for at least 60 minutes of training to promote weight loss.

Core Exercises

Aside from elliptical training, core exercises are an important part of treatment. According to Family Doctor, strengthening the muscles in your back and stomach will take pressure off your discs and reduce the pain. A bird dog is an example of an exercise that works the back and abs simultaneously. To do this, get into an all fours position with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Steadily raise your right arm and left leg in the air until they are both fully extended. Hold for a full second, slowly lower your arm and leg and repeat on your other side. Alternate back and forth.



Before you begin an exercise program on the elliptical, make sure to get permission from your doctor.




Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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