The benefits of a treadmill are legion, including increased cardiovascular endurance and lost weight. Still, using one can sometimes strain or further hurt your spine, which absorbs much of the impact from running, no matter how fast or slow you go.
The cost of using a treadmill can be high, warns Dr. Amin Al Shawabkeh, a Dubai-based neurologist, due to a treadmill’s unrelaxed and unforgiving pace. While he touts the benefits of walking, he doesn’t recommend doing it on a treadmill, since “a regular walking posture allows the shocks from the impact of the feet to dissipate throughout the body, where the treadmill posture channels harmful vibrations directly to the affected areas of the spine.”
Low-Back Muscle Strain
The repetitive stress and impact of running, especially over long periods of time, and on any surface, can jar and injure your spine and lower back, according to Sean E. McCance, M.D., co-director of Orthopedic Spine Surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan. Sometimes the strain is innocent, easing after a couple of days of rest. Incorporating stretching in your warm-up may help, as will stretching when you’re done. And if all else fails, over-the-counter pain relievers can also help.
Sometimes strain signals something worse is wrong with a disc, which absorbs shock. A herniated disc can cause pain in the lower back and legs and is often referred to as a “pinched nerve.” These lower-back discs court injury, according to Peter F. Ullrich, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon based in Wisconsin, since “the lower back bears the most torque and force on a day to day basis." Hot and cold compression can help, though sometimes surgery is needed. To help avoid this kind of injury, “try to run on a forgiving surface if possible, such as a rubber track, and try to avoid running on cement," he recommends.
You can help prevent injuries by fully warming up before getting on a treadmill. To warm up your back, sway side to side, do side bends and ease into gentle backbends. If something hurts while you’re using a treadmill, stop. While some post-workout pain is normal, if something hurts longer than four or five days after a workout, call your doctor. And you should always check with your doctor before beginning a workout regimen, including one as innocent-looking as a treadmill.
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.