We love them, but are running machines safe?
Running on a treadmill is one of the most basic forms of indoor cardio there is. A lot of people see a warmup or cool down treadmill session as an integral part of their gym visit or even hang their entire exercise routine off of it. However, treadmills are often cited as being the cause of injury – especially in the knees and feet – so are they really a good thing to be including in your workout?
Like many things in the fitness world, the benefits of equipment can only be realised from using it safely. In this post, we’re going to discuss the dangers of improper use and give you some tips on how to properly approach this machine.
Dangers of treadmills – what are they exactly?
While the treadmill is often seen as a good alternative to jogging outside when the weather or lighting conditions aren’t ideal, there are key differences between the two.
The ground is moving under your feet while you’re on a treadmill. This changes how your body moves and the dispersal of your weight. Unfortunately, this can accentuate any predilections towards injury by increasing the stress on weak zones. However, this problem is not insurmountable.
Time for a new treadmill? See our guide on the best running machines under £500.
How to avoid injury on the treadmill
Focusing on your gait and foot strike and ensuring that undue pressure in not being wrongfully placed is the best way to prevent against running injury – indeed, this is true for both natural environments and running on a treadmill, it’s just more important for the latter.
If you’re not confident in your ability to do this, you can ask a physiotherapist to appraise your running technique and give you tailored advice on how to improve.
Why do you get pain after using a treadmill?
Pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.
Make sure you’re not falling into any of these common treadmill mistakes.
Ankle pain after running on your treadmill
Pain in the ankles is typically related to gait and foot strike, as already discussed, but it can also be related to the flatness of your feet.
Again, this is an example of a pre-existing condition coming to the fore because of the constantly moving running surface. Something as simple as a pair of supportive insoles can make a big difference to foot pain.
Why do my knees hurt after using the treadmill?
Pain in the knees is caused by pressure being struck through your body.
Researching jogging techniques and improving your posture can address this. Wearing knee supports while running can help to prevent against injury and relieve the pain of existing conditions.
Fix knee pain after using a running machine this way:
Knee supports work by changing the distribution of pressure in the affected joint and are popular with all types of runners, up to and including professional athletes.
Hip pain from using treadmill
The hips and back are other common areas for treadmill-related pain. The hips can be a vulnerable area because our leg length is not fully symmetrical and so one side will inevitably be put under more pressure than the other.
This causes strength imbalances in the hips. Look at your running posture is this is a problem area for you. In relation to back pain, poor posture, irritable joints and having a weak back (a common complaint in taller people) can all lead to back pain following treadmill use.
Fix treadmill hip pain by:
Again, this can be corrected by maintaining a proper running form. Incorporating strength training, to strengthen the muscles in the back and make them more resistant to injury, will also help.
Avoid negative effects of treadmills
Some simple steps to staying safe while using your running machine!
Keeping a running journal and recording duration of runs, top speeds, average speeds and rest days will help you to spot patterns in your body’s response.
It’s also incredibly important to invest in a good pair of running shoes and to change them regularly. Trainers are like a coat of armour that protect you against the hard surface of the treadmill. They will absorb some of the shock from the impact of your foot hitting the floor, thus lessening the amount that travels back up through your body and causes injury.
Make sure your treadmill is well lubricated – see our guide on how to oil your running machine.
Don’t forget this simple tip to avoid treadmill injuries
Finally, play around with the adjustable settings on the treadmill. Adding incline helps to mimic the effects of wind resistance and gives you a more authentic running experience.
It also causes your body to work harder while going at the same speed. Instead of solely focusing on speed or distance goals, work on increasing your incline as this will build endurance and strength without the tendency to pound the surface and create the injury-causing shocks that are produced at higher speeds.
Final Thoughts: Are Treadmills Bad For You?
There is nothing inherently unsafe about the treadmill, it’s all down to how you conduct yourself on the machine.
As already mentioned, some of the most common areas of pain are caused by improper running technique and pre-existing conditions that’re aggravated by the nature of the treadmill’s surface.
It’s advisable to research posture and get a professional to watch you as you run to catch any mistake you might be making. Another trigger for pain is overdoing it on the treadmill. Like any exercise, pushing yourself beyond your limits is not advised.
If running on a treadmill isn’t for you, think about something like an elliptical cross trainer, which offer a smoother ride, with no impact on your joints.
References and further reading
- How to pick the perfect treadmill
- Harvard – Get smart about treadmills
- Spine Health – Advantages and Disadvantages of Treadmill Use for Exercise and Pain Relief
- NCBI – The effect of treadmill-based and track-based walking training on physical fitness in ankle-sprain experienced young people
- NHS – Running for beginners
- Free PDF – Exercise treadmill test