Are Treadmills Bad for Your Knees?

Running on the treadmill gives you an immense sense of freedom besides burning a massive amount of calories. Even walking on that treadmill can increase your aerobic capacity and help you lose weight.

But rumor has it that treadmills are bad for your knees.

This article discusses whether that’s true, starting from multiple studies. We also question whether running on a treadmill is worse for your knees than running on grass. To finish up, we offer some proven tips to protect your knees while abusing that running machine.

Keep reading below!

Is Running on Treadmills Bad for Your Knees?

how to protect your knees while running on a treadmill

Running on treadmills could be bad for your knees, especially if:

  • You have preexisting pain or fractures.
  • You don’t have any preexisting pain or chronic illness but keep a poor form.
  • You exercise more than you should, thus pushing your body over its limits.
  • You wear poor shoes or run in socks.

Remember that walking and running are weight-bearing activities. Studies show that you’re placing 2.5-4x more force on your knees than usual when you’re running. As a result, you increase the risk of an accident.

Also, here’s another thing you probably don’t want to hear, but it’s scientifically correct:

Overweight and obese people have more chances of damaging their knees while running on the treadmill. 

Yes, you may be fitter, stronger and more generally active than a skinny-fat person drowning in cholesterol.

But no, gravity doesn’t care about that.

Remember that the weight on your knees is 2.5-4 times your body weight. That’s a massive difference if you weigh 50 pounds more than your doctor says it’s healthy.

Is Running on a Treadmill Better for Knees than Outside?

is running bad for your knees?

Some research points out that running on a treadmill is better for your knees than running outside. The reason is that the pavement or cement is hard on your knees. By contrast, treadmills are lower impact, especially if you purchase one with shock-absorbing technology.

What about the grass?

Sure, grass would offer a more cushiony surface than cement. Here’s the problem:

Even grassy terrain isn’t perfectly even as treadmills are. Thus, stepping on knolls or avoiding mounds increases impact and the risk of injury.

Related: 7 Best Exercise Equipment for Bad Knees

Is Walking on a Treadmill Good for Your Knees?

Walking on a treadmill could be good for your knees if your doctor gives you the go-ahead. You should be very careful about this, especially if you’re recovering from an injury or are otherwise mobility-challenged.

But, if you’re in good health, walking on a treadmill is terrific for you.

You can increase endurance, become fitter, strengthen your heart, sleep better, and the list can go on. Besides, you’ll notice some effects on your knees too.

Let’s explain:

When we’re babies, our bones develop along with the rest of our bodies. That’s why GPs advise parents to give kids vitamin D, calcium, and a balanced diet.

Remember: Stronger bones have a higher density.

However, some endocrine problems and age decrease that bone density. That’s why you get frail, wobbly knees after turning 45 if you lead a sedentary life.

Luckily, there’s a solution.

Walking on the treadmill exercises your bones and increases your bone density. You can combine this activity with other fun, weight-bearing exercises, like resistance training, hiking, etc.

Walking on the treadmill can also help you recover from some injuries.

Studies show that walking on the treadmill is essential to strengthen your ligaments and improve mobility if…

Here’s the problem:

Just like we said at the beginning of this section, in some cases walking on the treadmill can do more harm than good. It’s the case of non-specific acute low back pain, as cited in the study above.

It can also be better for acute knee pain to avoid weight-bearing exercises.

In this situation, it’s best to build up your strength through low-impact activities like swimming or pedaling on a recumbent bike.

Is Treadmill Incline Bad for Knees?

is incline treadmill walking bad for knees?

Treadmill incline may strengthen your knees more, according to some studies. Even a tiny 2-3% increase will put exponentially less pressure on your knees.

But if you’re running on the treadmill, that force may prove too much for your body. That’s how you can get patellofemoral stress syndrome.

There’s good news:

You can increase your strength level. Start small, at zero incline and low speed. Then, work your way up, increasing the challenge by 1 km/h and 1% incline each week.

Go at your pace, follow your doctor’s advice, and you’ll soon reap the benefits of incline walking.

How to Protect Your Knees on a Treadmill 

are incline treadmills bad for your knees?

Now that you know running and even potentially walking can damage your knees, don’t despair. You have plenty of solutions to protect yourself:

Wear the Right Equipment

Running barefoot is a higher impact, meaning it’s tougher on your knees. Besides, inexistent ankle support is dangerous when you’re running because your ankles can always slip out on you.

As a result, your knees will suffer too.

The solution is to wear cushiony running trainers with ergonomic soles. These shoes will absorb shocks to your feet and promote a good posture.

Pro tip: Look for specifically designed running shoes because their curved soles are designed for this activity.

Exercise Correctly

Exercising correctly entails an array of things that will protect your whole body – knees included – from injury of any kind:

  • Do at least a quick warm-up to activate those muscles and bones. Going from zero to hero increases your injury risk.
  • Keep a correct posture throughout your workout. Keep your back straight, shoulders down, and knees slightly bent. Contract your abs and glutes to make sure your knees don’t take too much pressure. 
  • Step on your sole from your heel to your tips. Falling flat-footed on the treadmill activates a higher force on your knees, thus increasing the injury risk.
  • Don’t overdo it. Start small and increase exercise length slowly. That strategy will bring you more results in the long term. Listen to your body; if you’re a beginner, don’t start running at 20 km/h for three hours each day.
  • Cool down. This cooldown is essential for mobility. Besides, studies show that stretching your ligaments and muscles decreases the risk of injury.

Choose the Right Treadmill

If you’re predisposed to knee problems or plan to do intense runs, choose a cushiony treadmill. That means you may have to invest a bit extra into a multi-layer running machine with shock-absorbing technology.

But, in the long run, you’ll save yourself the hassle of physiotherapy, pain, and costly doctor visits.

So, don’t compromise on your health. Get the right treadmill and exercise with the right attitude!

Mary D. Brown

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