By Simon Gould
You can get injured running on a treadmill just like running outside. The deck may be cushioned but you can still get overuse injuries. Then you can get injured by falling off or another accident on a treadmill. No exercise is without its risks, but you can minimize these and make your treadmill running as injury free as possible.
Possible injuries from running on a treadmill
The following injuries aren’t necessarily exclusive to treadmill running. But some of them can be made worse by using a treadmill incline for eaxmple. If you’re feeling pain or discomfort, see a health professional or physio, because you may have one of the injuries below.
- Runner’s knee – Pain in or around the knee.
- Lower back pain – Dull ache at the lower back.
- Shin splints – Throbbing or aching in the front of the shin.
- Plantar fasciitis – Pain around the heel or arch areas.
- Achilles tendinitis – Pain or stiffness along the back of the heel.
- IT band syndrome – Aching on the outside of the knee.
- Hamstring strain – Sudden pain in the back of the upper leg.
- Calf strain – Tightness or pain in the back of the lower leg.
It’s a daunting list and I’ve had a few of them personally from running on my treadmill. But they only manifested when I started running long distances. Plus I’m in my 40’s and we know age is a risk factor. Listen to your body as you workout and recognize how you feel as you run. Then you may be able to recognize if you’re starting to injure yourself.
9 Injury prevention tips from treadmill running
1. Limit incline use
Running on an incline for long periods can be very stressful on the joints. You don’t find never ending hills in nature and you shouldn’t on your treadmill. I can understand power walking on an incline to lose weight. But you don’t need to run on it. If you want to make your workout harder, increase the speed.
2. Strengthen stabilizing muscles
Some of the injuries above could have been prevented by having stronger muscles. You could try some resistance training by doing squats, calf raises and core work. It’s an extra thing to do but there are specific benefits to strength training. The World Health Organization recommends we do this on 2 days per week.
3. Stretch before running
This can be time consuming, but dynamic stretching before your treadmill run can really help flexibility and prevent injury. You don’t need to stretch the whole body, just the leg specific exercises. Make it part of your routine before and after your runs.
4. Warm up and cool down
Some of the injuries above are caused by sudden movement. Warm ups and cool downs may be boring, but essential to prepare the body for what’s to come. It also helps the heart and cardiovascular system prepare for the main workout. Experts reiterate the benefits. They also say a cool down is important for endurance activities.
5. Start at a low intensity
Build up slowly when it comes to speed training or running long distances. This is especially important if you haven’t run for a while. If you measure your runs in miles, then increase your weekly mileage slowly. If you do speed training or a long run. Do it once per week at the most. The idea is to keep you injury free.
6. Maintain a natural posture and form
You need to ensure you run like you would outside in terms of posture and stride. This will mean you run as naturally as possible to help prevent injuries occurring. Sometimes this can be difficult when you’re running in a small space like a treadmill deck. But by looking ahead and relaxing your arms, you’ll keep injuries to a minimum.
7. Replace running shoes regularly
Get proper running shoes and make sure they fit well. You may want them fitted professionally so they are tailored to the shape of your foot and the way you run. Replace them every 400 miles or when you see signs of wear. They will degrade over time even though you’re running on a treadmill.
The importance of rest and recovery can’t be understated. Some people like to do streaks where they run for sometimes everyday for 30 days or more. This is not recommended. Take a couple of days off every week. This is essential for injury prevention. A lot of the injuries above are due to overuse.
9. Cross train
A treadmill is an impact exercise. Not as much as outside, but still significant. If you want to maintain your fitness and avoid injury you could try a different form of cardiovascular exercise occasionally. You could try cycling or swimming. There’s plenty of cardio equipment you can use in a gym or outside that’s gentle on the legs and feet.
Falling off and other accidents on a treadmill
Yes falling off. There are an average of 3 deaths per year from falling off a treadmill 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.
How to stay safe on a treadmill
Considering there are around 50 million treadmill users the proportion of accidents are very small. But care still needs to be taken not to add yourself to the statistics of people hurt. 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.
- Keep 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.
- Exercise with friends or family nearby – 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.
Treadmill running can cause injuries, but it doesn’t have to. Listen to your body, take days off and lower the intensity to keep yourself injury free. Some injuries take months of rest to heal and you don’t want that. Better to take a few precautions than interrupt your training routines. We can’t have the treadmill gathering dust while we recuperate.
Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked*