Elliptical machines are cross-trainers that help you build up your cardio while also working various muscle groups in your body. They have variable resistance that you can adjust to make the exercise more or less intense. Some can even be set to an incline for more of a lower-body workout, and some machines include arm levers for an upper-body workout. While the elliptical trainer falls into the category of low-impact exercise equipment, it still has the potential to cause pain in your legs.
Working out on an elliptical machine is similar to running, as it uses many of the same leg mechanics to perform the exercise motions. Because of this, many injuries caused by running can also occur using an elliptical machine, including hip flexor injuries. The muscles that make up the hip flexors work to flex the hip and extend the knee. Doing explosive movements, like running quickly on an elliptical, can cause injury to the hip flexors if the muscles are too tight or lack flexibility. Stretching properly, warming up and starting out slowly when using the elliptical can help avoid this type of injury.
The quadriceps are the muscles at the front of your thighs and can also become strained, or torn, when using an elliptical machine. The quadriceps are made up of four muscles including the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and the rectus femoris. The rectus femoris is most commonly injured when using an elliptical trainer, as it extends across both the hip and knee joints. Warming up properly can help avoid this type of injury, according to the Sports Injury Clinic.
If you already have a knee injury, using an elliptical machine can also cause pain in this part of the leg. Although the elliptical is considered low-impact compared to running or jogging, it still provides resistance against your leg muscles and joints, which can result in pain. According to physical therapist Doug Kelsey, you can test your load tolerance, or the amount of resistance your knees can handle, by doing a single leg squat or stair step. If this causes pain, you may have a low load tolerance and need to do exercises where the load tolerance for that workout is equal to or less than your body weight. This would exclude the elliptical but include exercises like swimming where the buoyancy of water makes you lighter.
Since exercising with an elliptical trainer works your leg muscles, you can experience leg muscle pain as you would doing any other lower-body strength-training workout. This may include soreness in your quadriceps, hamstrings or calf muscles. While severe pain may be a sign of injury, normal muscle soreness can be expected and should subside as your muscles recover. Warming up and stretching properly can help reduce general muscle soreness from exercising, while using the RICE procedure (rest, ice, compress and elevate) can help relieve pain from a mild muscle injury. Seek medical attention right away if your pain is more severe.
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