Seated leg presses and Roman chair back extensions could worsen lower back pain. A person should discuss alternatives with a physical therapist or personal trainer.

Lower back pain is a common problem in adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that almost 40% of adults experienced back pain in the last 3 months of 2019.

Lower back pain can have many possible causes. Some common causes of lower back pain include injuries and medical conditions such as slipped disks. Treatment for lower back pain can take several different forms depending on the cause.

Exercise is generally beneficial for maintaining good bone and muscle health. However, certain exercises can worsen lower back pain and cause further injury.

The best exercises for reducing back pain help build core strength and promote lumbar spine stability. Beneficial exercises are those that activate core muscles, such as the plank. Some exercises that do not activate the core will lead to more back pain.

In this article, we discuss some of the worst exercise machines for lower back pain and suggest alternatives.

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The seated leg press is an exercise for strengthening the lower body. It involves sitting on a tilted chair with the knees bent and feet against a platform. A repetition involves pushing the platform away from the body by extending the legs before returning it.

It primarily targets the quadriceps muscles of the leg. However, it can stress the lower back significantly.

Squats and leg presses may cause low back injuries if performed with poor form. The load or the weight does not necessarily cause injury, but the tucking of the pelvis at the bottom of the squat movement flexes the lumbar spine and loads the disks and ligaments.

Alternative: Bodyweight squats

Bodyweight squats are an alternative to the seated leg press.

A person can even do a “goblet squat” by holding a light weight once they get comfortable with the squat movement. Eventually, if the exercise does not aggravate a person’s lower back pain, they may work on doing a barbell front squat. Core activation will be key in all types of squats.

People should work on a gradual progression over time, especially if they have a history of back pain.

Treadmills make running easily accessible for people. People may walk or run on treadmills, which allow adjustments to the resistance and incline of the belt. They are a good way to improve cardiovascular fitness without going outside.

Treadmill walking is not necessarily a bad exercise for back pain. Many people with back pain may find that walking helps reduce pain. However, running when the body has not built adequate strength and endurance will probably cause more back pain. Keeping low intensity on the treadmill will be more beneficial.

Alternative: Elliptical trainer

Elliptical trainers are a good alternative to treadmills. They allow for low impact cardiovascular exercise indoors. Ellipticals have moving handles and foot pads that help reduce joint pressure.

Although ellipticals are better for the joints than treadmills, overdoing it on an elliptical may also prolong back pain.

Research from 2020 suggests that the elliptical trainer can help reduce back pain if a person performs it in moderation and steadily.

Romain chair back extensions target back muscles around the spine.

However, repeated Roman chair back extensions put excess pressure on the lower back and can cause pain in other areas, such as the hips or neck.

Alternative: Bird dog exercise

The bird dog exercise targets the core and back. It involves being down on all fours and reaching forward with one arm while extending the leg on the opposing side. Maintaining this pose without sagging engages the core and puts less pressure on the lower back.

The leg extension machine is an exercise for strengthening the quadriceps. Leg extensions involve sitting in a chair with the shins behind a padded bar. A repetition involves lifting the bar with the legs until they are straight before letting them return to a resting position.

Leg extensions primarily target the quadriceps. However, they can stress the knee joint significantly and potentially worsen lower back pain.

Alternative: Step-ups

Step-ups may be an alternative to the leg extension machine that targets the hips, gluteus muscles, and quadriceps.

Step-ups involve holding dumbbells in either hand and standing behind a platform. A repetition involves placing one foot on the platform and pushing with that leg to raise the other foot onto the platform.

However, this exercise could also result in back pain if not performed correctly. Seated squats or regular squats are other alternatives.

Lower back pain can have many causes, and treatment will depend on the cause.

However, an important step is to keep moving with daily activities. Resting for long periods can worsen back pain, and being active without causing excess pain will speed up recovery. Some exercises that might help include:

  • swimming
  • walking
  • yoga
  • pilates

Some people will benefit from taking painkiller medications. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce lower back pain and inflammation. People may take these medications during episodes of pain to relieve symptoms.

Other treatments that might help people with chronic back pain include:

  • physical therapy
  • mindfulness and meditation
  • avoiding activities that worsen back pain
  • self-help strategies

Below are some frequently asked questions.

What exercises should I avoid with lower back pain?

Avoid exercises that isolate and put undue stress on the lower back. These could include seated leg presses or leg extensions.

What is the best exercise machine for lower back problems?

It is important to keep moving and avoid long periods of inactivity to support recovery. Elliptical trainers are an example of a machine that allows someone to exercise multiple body parts without straining the lower back.

What machines should I avoid at the gym?

Avoid machines that isolate muscles around the lower back. These exercises will place significant stress on the lower back. Examples of machines to avoid include seated leg presses and treadmills.

Can ellipticals cause lower back pain?

Elliptical machines use moving foot pedals and handlebars to simulate a running motion and exercise the body. They do not isolate the lower back muscles and should be safe to use with lower back pain.

Lower back pain is common and can have many possible causes. Moving the body and avoiding long periods of inactivity are important for recovery from lower back pain. However, exercises that put excess pressure on the back will worsen the problem, such as treadmills.

A person can speak with an exercise professional or a physical therapist about low intensity exercises for the lower back.