Can Running On A Treadmill Cause Injuries?
By Simon Gould
When you think of running injuries you don't normally associate them with treadmills. Running outside can cause them. You have all kinds of terrains you're running on and you can easily slip and fall especially when it's wet. Injuries outside occur from crossing road and vehicles that you may be trying to navigate round.
You have none of that on a treadmill but can you get direct injuries that running outside causes like shin splints? Your joints can take a pounding on a variety of surfaces so knee problems occur too. This is especially the case if you're a little heavier than you were. So here I highlight some of the dangers of using a treadmill. Yes, injuries can still occur using one. But how?
Running with too much incline for too long
The very advantage of using a treadmill than running outside is the ability to set an incline. You can set how steep it is and how long you want to run on it for. But this needs to be used with caution as this could cause an injury in itself. You don't find permanent hills in nature so you shouldn't find it on your treadmill either.
Running on an incline stretchers your achillies and calf muscles. It's like the opposite of wearing high heels. Combine this with a stretching routine before and maybe after and your straining the tendon. Every time you pound the treadmill on an incline. You strain that part of the foot further. You can still benefit from this run just don't run on an incline for so long. Alternate between low and high if necessary.
Shin splints and other over use injuries
Running can give you shin splints. Even walking can cause this problem. People who walk long distances for charity often complain of shin splints. It's the distance you travel that is the culprit. Even though the treadmill has a nice cushioned surface shin splints and other knee and joints injuries can still occur.
The tibia which is the larger bone in the front of the lower leg can get stress fractures from running on a treadmill long distances. Although this is less likely than running outside, the issue is still there (source below). If you have any overuse injuries from running outside and you think running on a treadmill is like resting the problem. Think again, you could be making it worse.
Yes falling off. There are an average of 3 deaths per year form falling off treadmills and countless injuries. When you run outside you can "switch off" and enjoy your run without concentrating too much. Let's face it, that's one of the joys of running outside. However, this should be avoided on a treadmill.
Treadmill running requires a degree of staying in the moment. It's easy for your mind to wander and so does your stride. The next thing you know you've veered to the edge of the running surface. This can especially occur if you're watching TV or if you look around you. Maybe your in the gym and you hear a loud noise. The temptation is to see what it was but that's the very moment you could fall off.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission says there are 62,000 injuries caused by treadmills and 24,000 had to go to the emergency room. The problem is the belt keeps moving when you fall off and your catapulted into whatever is behind you. The intensity of the treadmill speed can cause grazes on various body parts that come into contact with the running surface.
Considering there are around 50 million treadmill users in the US annually the proportion of injuries are very small. But care still needs to be taken not to add yourself to the list. There are a few ways to prevent this and we've compiled a list here.
- Concentrate - Running on a treadmill is like running on a narrow path. Either side of the treadmill path is a stationary block whereas the path has a fast moving surface. You need to be constantly aware of where your feet are. Whether you're at the front, back or the side. You need to run toward the middle.
- Use the emergency stop key - Treadmills in gyms nearly always have these on. Home bought ones are starting to think about safety. The emergency stop key usually has some string attached to it and a clip. With this you clip it on and should you fall off in the middle of your run then the treadmill will stop abruptly. This Prevents you from further injury from the fast moving belt.
- Use the treadmill away from a wall - This is the case especially if the wall is behind you. If so you would be catapulted into the wall at high speed and this is where sometimes serious injuries can occur. Even a wall by the side can cause problems. At home place the treadmill in an open room. At a gym then find the safest looking treadmill and use that one.
- Start with low intensity - Especially if you're unfamiliar with the treadmill you're about to use. Maybe it's a new gym or home bought treadmill. Take care and get used to the treadmill and it's console before you start. If this is the case as well then start at a low intensity so you can get a feel with how the treadmill speeds up and slows down.
- Exercise with friends - Or with others in the gym. Anyone who can help you is important should you come into any difficulty. Someone can get help if needed or support you themselves. Running at home alone if you become injured means no one is around to raise the alarm. Sometimes this is unavoidable so being careful is always a good thing.
Source: C Milgron, A Finestone, S Segev, C Olin, T Arndt & I Ekenman bjsm.bmj.com/content/37/2/160.short. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2003.
Thinking of buying a treadmill? See my top 3 recommended treadmills for 2021