Common Treadmill Injuries: What You Need to Know to Prevent Them

The weather has been lousy in many parts of the country, and people are looking for other forms of exercise, with a treadmill being a popular alternative. Unfortunately, even though a treadmill is a terrific form of exercise, injuries can result. This article provides tips for safely and effectively exercising on a treadmill to help prevent injuries.

Key takeaways:
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    Treadmills are a popular alternative to outdoor running; however, they can cause injuries if proper techniques are not used.
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    The most severe hazard of exercising on a treadmill is falling off the treadmill.
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    Treadmills can cause Achilles tendon injuries and muscular strains.
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    Suggestions for avoiding treadmill injuries include moderate use, stretching before and afterward, alternating speed and incline, focusing on running, and properly using the safety clip.

For a detailed discussion of the different injuries that can result from running, please refer to our article on runner's knee and iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, In addition, we have a specific piece on shin splints.

Outdoor hazards that can be avoided with indoor treadmill

When running outside, environmental hazards include uneven gravel, cars, light or parking posts, heat, the sun, bitter cold, and snow.

One particular hazard is especially important to discuss — air pollution. If you live in an area of high air pollution, you may want to avoid outdoor physical activity. One study published in the European Heart Journal in July 2021 found that increased physical activity in areas with moderate air pollution led to adverse effects on cardiovascular health.

Hazards associated with an indoor treadmill

1. Falling off a treadmill

The treadmill belt is the part that moves over the treadmill deck. When you're jogging outdoors, and you stop, the road doesn't continue moving. However, with a treadmill, the belt continues moving if you stop walking or running, possibly causing you to fall.

Additional treadmill injuries are known to occur when people return to a fast-moving belt. When people need to stop running on the treadmill immediately, they may place their feet on the sides of the moving belt or get off the treadmill. Sometimes they forget how fast the belt is moving, and when they get back on a fast-moving belt, they either fall off or injure themselves.

When you fall off a treadmill, you can get numerous injuries, ranging from muscular strains to head injuries to cuts and lacerations.

2. Achilles tendon injuries

The Achilles tendon is a strong, fibrous tissue band that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone.

Achilles-tendon

Surprisingly, Achilles tendon injuries are more likely to occur with treadmills than running on an indoor or outdoor surface. One study published in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy in July 2016 found that more loading (pressure) was placed on the Achilles tendon from treadmill running compared to overground running in healthy, uninjured runners.

In addition to the increased loading from a treadmill, the extra strain from not pausing can also add to Achilles tendon injuries.

3. Muscular strains

Muscle strains occur more often on treadmills than outdoor running because when you're outdoors, you take interruption breaks for traffic, animals (dogs), or even construction. However, when you're on a treadmill, you usually keep going without interruption, making it more likely to develop a muscular strain.

Safety tips for treadmills

  • Use the treadmill moderately. Because you're on a motorized moving belt, it is easier to overdo it compared to running outside. Also, the moving belt keeps you on pace. However, before you know it, you may have gone too far and caused muscle strains, soreness, and pain;
  • Stretching. Warming up your muscle before jumping on the treadmill is particularly important — especially for the Achilles tendon. Stretching lightly before using a treadmill use. However, afterward, you can do deeper stretches because your muscles and tendons are warmed up and loose;
  • Alternate speed and incline. Change your running pattern and engage different muscles to decrease the likelihood of injury. Some treadmills are attached to video computer programs or live people, which advise you when to change speed and incline;
  • Core and abdominal strengthening. Do exercises to strengthen your core to decrease the risk of injury in the lower extremities;
  • Stay focused on your running technique. Your running style and technique are important, especially when running at a fast pace. Some people read, watch tv, or use electronic devices when on the treadmill. However, these distractions used to help pass the time can lead to injury. Always be aware of the treadmill machine and your footing; although, try not to look down at the feet for prolonged periods since it can throw you off balance and cause a fall;
  • Place the treadmill on a sturdy, level floor. This may be common sense, but if you're living somewhere with thin floors, especially in an older house, consider placing the treadmill on the ground floor. Flexible or uneven flooring can throw the machine out of balance — it may tip over and cause injury due to poor technique;
  • Don't just stop the treadmill and jump off. When nearing the end of your workout, it's best to slow your pace and cool down for about five minutes before stopping. When outside, people tend to walk the last part of the course since they can see or know the endpoint. Because it is easy to forget when you've reached your cool-down point, many treadmills have this feature programmed. Wait to get off the treadmill until the belt has stopped moving;
  • Always use the safety clip. Like other motorized recreation vehicles, you attach the clip to your clothing. This way, should you fall off, the treadmill stops if the clip gets pulled out.

As ridiculous as it may sound, running on a treadmill may pose more risk of injury than running outdoors. Before taking your first step, learn how the machine works so you'll know which button to push should you need to do so in a hurry. You can also help avoid treadmill injuries by warming up, cooling down, and honing your technique to prevent muscle strains.

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