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How to avoid treadmill injuries

Walking on a fixed surface is dramatically different from walking on a moving surface like a treadmill. This article explores treadmill injuries and how to prevent them.

Treadmill Injuries

A simple 5 point guide to help you avoid treadmill injuries

It’s that time of year when the weather is going to force us to move indoors to exercise.  Treadmills are a great way to exercise, but unknown to most people, treadmills may actually contribute to lower extremity injuries.  To understand how a treadmill may contribute to lower extremity injuries, let’s take a look at how walking or running on a treadmill differs from walking or running on a flat, fixed surface.

Walking on a fixed, flat surface, like a road or sidewalk, can be described as a controlled forward fall.  During walking, the calf and Achilles tendon creates resistance to forward motion and functions to decelerate the forward motion of the leg and our body mass as it moves forward over the foot.  As the forward motion becomes too great for the calf and Achilles tendon to manage, we put our opposite foot forward to begin the gait cycle again.

The gait cycle in running is just a little different.  With running, the function of the calf and Achilles tendon changes to include spring motion and propulsion.  As the center of body mass leans forward in running, the calf and Achilles take on all three properties:

  • Resisting forward motion
  • Spring accommodation of weight bearing
  • Forward propulsion

Now let’s switch from a flat, fixed outdoor surface and jump inside onto a treadmill.  Walking and running on a treadmill changes the way in which the calf and Achilles tendon work.  The difference between a fixed surface and a moving surface is that the functions of resistance, spring and propulsion change.  On a treadmill, we tend to over stride, stretching tissue structures beyond their normal end length.  Doing so for a short period of time is fine, but when stressed by repetitive exercise, soft tissue injuries on treadmills become common.  Injuries include:

What can you do to prevent treadmill injuries?  Here’s a simple 5 point guide to avoid treadmill injuries.

  1.        Stretch prior to using a treadmill. 
  2.        Use moderation, especially when beginning treadmill use.
  3.        Wear shoes with an adequate arch support.
  4.        Wear a shoe with a slight heel lift or add a heel lift.
  5.        Add incline to the treadmill slowly.  Start flat and only add incline after at least 1 – 2 weeks of continuous treadmill use.

Although the switch from outdoor exercise to indoor treadmill work seems fairly benign, there’s actually a number of lower extremity injuries we see each winter that are specific to treadmill use.  To ensure a healthy and injury-free winter, go slow, use moderation, and follow my 5 point plan.


Dr. Jeffrey Oster
Jeffrey A. Oster, DPM

Medical Advisor

Updated 12/24/19

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