Are Elliptical Machines Bad For Your Hips?

Many people suffering from injury or general discomfort turn to the elliptical for the low impact workouts it offers. These often prove more forgiving on the limbs than other forms of exercise.

But are elliptical machines bad for your hips? Certain types of hip pain may in fact be exacerbated by elliptical use, especially if the machine is used as the only form of exercise and without other rehabilitative measures. However, generally speaking, proper elliptical use can help to strengthen and protect the hip area in healthy users. 

Whether or not this method of exercise will prove a help or a hindrance when it comes to your own hips will likely depend on the specific nature of your injury or discomfort. 

Today, we’ll be looking more closely at how the repeated range of motion occasioned by the elliptical can exacerbate certain types of hip pain. At the same time, we will also be thinking about ways that regular cross training could actually help guard against injury and enhance general strength in the lower body and hip areas.

As with any injury related matter, it is always wise to seek the advice of a trained medical professional when embarking upon a rehabilitative program.

Always check with your physician before incorporating a new or unfamiliar workout to your routine if you think it could impact on a pre-existing condition or physical ailment. 

Can The Elliptical Hurt Your Hips 

A short answer to this question is yes and no. It depends on a range of factors, including the specific nature of any hip-related injuries you might have. 

The hip area is in fact an incredibly complex, multi-faceted part of the body, linked to other regions of tendon, muscle, bone, and joints including the spine, lower legs and core. This means that hip pain can be caused by injury or strain on other muscles not necessarily located within the hip area itself. 

The stride length on some elliptical machines can prove too small and too restrictive for some users, especially if it’s not widely adjustable.

Are Elliptical Machines Bad For Your Hips?
Woman on exercise machine

This, combined with the firm placement of the feet required by the pedals, can result in the user adopting what feels like an unnatural posture, leading to certain muscles being overworked. 

The hips themselves can be affected by this either directly or indirectly, feeling overworked themselves or becoming painful as a result of having to adjust to strain being placed on other areas of the lower body. 

If you are concerned about your hips you can look to get a specially designed brace for extra support here:

Hip Brace - Thigh Hamstring Sciatica Pain Relief Brace - Compression Support Wrap for Hip Flexor Strain, Groin Pull, SI Joint, Arthritis, Bursitis, Sciatic Nerve for Men, Women (Black)

Some people may find that adopting an improper posture during their workouts also leads to pain in the hips. You should always aim to stand straight, shoulders back, and core engaged when operating the machine. If you find yourself leaning too far forward or too far back, this could result in additional strain on the hip or lower spinal area. 

Is The Elliptical Machine Hard on Hips?

In some ways, the elliptical machine can be seen as being easier on the hips than other, higher impact forms of exercise.

One of the reasons for ellipticals’ enduring popularity is their ability to provide effective cardio workouts without putting the limbs under the same impact as running, jumping, or certain athletic sports. 

If you find that such high impact exercises are causing hip discomfort, you may find that switching to the comparatively gentle motion of the elliptical, in which your feet never have to leave the surface of the pedals, is in fact far preferable.

Some physicians also note that the elliptical can be an effective tool in helping users who suffer from knee or hip arthritis reap the benefits of aerobic exercise and boost their cardio fitness, with less jarring impact being placed on painful joints. 

On the other hand, some have pointed towards the fact that in users with no pre-existing hip pain, the higher weight-bearing impact of running or other sports can actually help strengthen the hip area more effectively than cross training. 

When you run, there are moments when your core and hip flexors have to work to stabilise and balance your weight falling on only one side of your body.

This repeated motion, whilst it may wear the hip joints down over time if excessive, can also help strengthen the related muscles and tendons, guarding against certain forms of hip injury in the future. 

Whether or not generalised hip pain is going to be caused by the elliptical’s range of motion is also a subjective matter. Sometimes this will come down simply to how comfortable the user finds the elliptical experience. 

Some discover that the fixed nature of the foot pedals forces them to adopt what feels like an unnatural posture which, sooner or later, may result in general aching or acute discomfort in the hip area during or after exercise.

In such instances, it is wise to stop your cross training before it worsens, and seek the advice of a medical professional if the pain subsists or worsens. 

Can I Use the Elliptical With Hip Bursitis? 

Bursitis is a painful condition caused when small, fluid filled sacs near mobile joints become inflamed. These small sacs – known as bursae – act as a form of padding or cushioning between muscles, bones and tendons.

Bursitis is often caused by repetitive motion. It is therefore most commonly found in joint areas that are frequently moved, including the elbow, hip and shoulder areas. Its onset and severity also correlates with age. 

Elliptical Hip Bursitis

If you are suffering from elliptical hip bursitis specifically, you may find that the repeated flexing of the hip area brought about by the elliptical proves to be painful.

In such cases, it is probably the case that the machine’s movement is exacerbating rather than helping the condition, and you should stop and find another form of exercise to continue with. 

There may, however, also be instances in which strengthening the hip and leg muscles can help mitigate some of the painful symptoms of bursitis. Stronger muscles in the affected area can be a safeguard against pain and inflammation.

The elliptical can be an effective tool in helping to tone and strengthen the quads, glutes, and core, all of which are intimately tied to the hip area.  

If you are thinking of using the elliptical in an attempt to strengthen the related area, it might also be worth considering a healthy stretching routine to accompany it.

Hip rotator stretches can be a good way of helping to increase suppleness and flexibility in the region. Stretching of the iliotibial band can also be helpful for sufferers of elliptical hip bursitis. 

As with more generalised pain, it’s a good idea to listen to your body when it comes to bursitis. Your hips will likely tell you pretty quickly whether or not the elliptical’s range of motion is going to be an irritant or a balm. 

Is Elliptical Good For Tight Hip Flexors?

The hip flexors are the name given to a muscle group located, unsurprisingly, around the hip area. They are responsible for vital motions that we tend to carry out daily, including raising the legs, walking, running, or squatting. 

Tightness in the hip flexor region can be experienced as a lack of flexibility, difficulty standing up straight, poor posture, or a feeling of tightness or discomfort in the lower back. 

Whether or not the elliptical is a good bet when it comes to helping with this can often depend on the range of motion it affords.

As mentioned already, some users may find the stride length of some machines too restricted to really allow them to flex and stretch their legs enough for it to be an effective hip flexor workout.

Generally speaking, there are likely to be other exercises better suited to helping increase hip flexor mobility, such as lunges, dynamic stretches, and yoga. 

Some, however, may find that they can get at least some effective hip flexor stretching through the motion of the elliptical.

It’s worth testing out ellipticals before buying a model for your home to check whether this is the case, as well as checking to see how adjustable the stride length on any particular model might be. 

The most common culprit of tight hip flexors in modern times is immobility. Unfortunately, many of us lead extremely sedentary lives, seated in offices or in front of screens for much of our day. This results in static and underworked hip flexors, which equals tightness. 

If you find the elliptical to be a comfortable and attractive workout that gets you moving, then this is going to be a step in the right direction when it comes to combatting tight hip flexors caused by a stationary lifestyle. It will be better than remaining inactive. 

Final thoughts

Hip pain can be caused by a variety of factors. Whether or not the elliptical will prove to be an effective tool in helping you manage your own hip pain or injury is likely to depend on your own physical condition and specific situation. 

As a general rule, the elliptical can be an effective machine in helping to tone and strengthen, though not necessarily bulk out, muscles of the lower body.

It can also be a good exercise for people looking to reduce the impact on painful limbs, including the hips.

On the other hand, the repetitive circular movement of the elliptical may cause some people hip discomfort, especially if they are suffering from conditions related to joint friction or overuse. 

As with any physical ailment or rehabilitative programme, consult a physician before adopting any unfamiliar workouts, begin gently and slowly, and trust your body if it’s saying it’s in pain. 

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An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!