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Alleviating Lower Back Pain at the Gym

Many people enjoy doing exercises in the gym. Such activities include running on the treadmill, doing bench presses and using a stationary bicycle or elliptical machine – all sorts of work outs! But have you ever suffered from any minor injuries while working out? Of course most people have had this painful experience; therefore here are a few tips to help prevent it happening in the future.

First, stretching exercises are critical before you start strengthening your muscles. Proper and thorough stretching ensures the flexibility of muscles and elasticity of the tendons and ligaments. Often, non-contractile tissues within the body are tight and sudden contraction from a muscle will pull them too much resulting in injury. Injuries in muscles are called strains, while damage to ligaments are called sprains. Both contain a rich supply of capillaries and can result in hematoma causing swelling and pain.

Second, if you currently experience lower back pain (LBP), you need to be careful with your choice of gym equipment. Not every machine or exercise will be good for you. One current popular trend is core stability training, but you should always consult your physical therapist before trying a new exercise regime. Swiss Ball and mat exercises stimulate your core abdominal and multifidus muscles and help stabilize the lumbar spine segments of your lower back. If done properly and at the right stage of your conditioning, they are very useful in alleviating LBP symptoms and preventing re-injury.

Furthermore, for sufferers of LBP, it is better to avoid rowing machines, which tend to bend your lumbar spine into an awkward position. This position will put the intervertebral discs of your spine under high pressure, and can easily result in disc herniation. Also, when you perform a sit-up, avoid bending the middle of your back or turning your trunk during the action, as this will put the disc under very high intradiscal pressure and cause injury. Finally, if you enjoy riding a stationary bicycle, make sure your seat is at a proper height to keep the spine straight; don’t ride a bike with your whole trunk bent if you are presently having back problems.

If you work out in the gym in early morning, stretching the back thoroughly takes on an even greater importance. Often people experience a herniated disc or facet lock in the morning because the discs tend to swell in the morning, making them very susceptible to injury. So it is vital to first perform back extension exercises while lying on your stomach or leaning against a wall. This will give you some protection for the rest of the day.

Using the leg press and Pilates Reformer are other favorable choices for lower back pain, as well as certain elliptical, Nordic track, or stair climbing machines. These will enable you to build up trunk extensor and glutei strength. Since these muscles are all hydraulic in nature, they do not impact your discs or knees, and are therefore very safe methods to build back strength and preventing injuries at the same time. For more suggestions on exercises to alleviate back pain, please talk to your physical therapist.


Carolyn Kisner & Lynn Allen Colby. Therapeutic Exercises: Foundation and Techniques. 2002: 4th edition.
Rick Jemmett. Spinal Stabilization: The New Science of Back Pain. 2010: 2nd edition.