Is Running On A Treadmill Bad For Your Knees?

Running on a treadmill is a common kind of exercise and has excellent  benefits, but do you know how bad is running on a treadmill for your knees? Running on a treadmill is not bad to your knees and may be safer than running outside.

Running on a treadmill is easier for your knees than running outside because the treadmill absorbs shock, reducing the amount of impact and stress on the knees. So, running on a treadmill will not exacerbate your knee injuries as long as you maintain appropriate running form and use the treadmill’s incline correctly.

Running outside particularly a terrain having obstacles like stones might make your knees more stressful because it has to adjust continuously to various level of impact based on the terrain. Although it is possible to lessen the affects on your knees if you run outside on a smoother surface. 

Treadmill running and overground running were compared biomechanically in a study published in 2019. In this research, 33 healthy, uninjured runners were enrolled to compare the differences between running on treadmills versus running outside. 

The findings found  that both treadmill and outside running produced the same loading forces on muscle activity and muscular tendon. The changes can be seen from the measures of  foot strike, knee flexion range of motion, and vertical displacement (how much your body bounce up and down when running).

Researchers observed that running on a treadmill has a lower impact on the knees than running outside: The results are as follows:

  • The vertical displacement of jogging on a treadmill was much smaller when compared against running on all overground surfaces.                                                                                       
  • In some instances, the properties of treadmill running biomechanics can be advantageous for training or knee injury rehab since treadmill has a less stiff surface which is favorable for rehab with lower vertical loading rates compared to stiff overground surfaces.                                                                                             
  • Higher muscular forces have been identified using a treadmill, hence this can be helpful for rehabilitation from lower limb stress fractures.                                                                                                        
  • During treadmill running, the reduced propulsive force was identified which provides less pressure to your knee joints, because the running speed is relatively steady.                                                                                                                                              
  • When running on a treadmill, reduced braking forces are detected, resulting in less impact on the knees.

What Do Most People Think?

Many people believe that they will receive excessive knee injuries due to the frequent repetitive movements from running on the treadmill. The reality is that running on a treadmill is actually easier for your knees than running outside, as there are no obstacles and the treadmill belt offers a better grip and works as a shock absorber, minimizing impact on your knees.

When running on the treadmill, however, you may experience tighter calves as a result of the tiredness caused by running at a constant pace without the opportunity to modify your pace or speed. In some cases, muscle fatigue may create discomfort or aggravate existing knee injuries, resulting in knee pain.

Another factor that may contribute to knee pain while running on a treadmill is that people tend to keep their legs from fully extending, causing the treadmill’s force to press against their locked knees. When running on a treadmill, experts recommend that people make sure their foot lands under the body rather than in front of it.

However, workout equipment will only prevent injuries if they are used correctly. If you exercise and experience injuries, you are doing it incorrectly may be following either improper running form or selecting wrong inclination.

Why Treadmills Are Better For Knees

The knee is a shock absorber and the shock forces change depending on several things. Most common of them being-

  • Running surface
  • Running form
  • Inclination

Impact of Running Surface on Your Knees

The knee is a shock absorber and the shock forces change depending on several things, one of them being the running surface. The treadmill is slightly more comfortable for your knees than some of the other surfaces that we frequently come across when running, including the following:

  • Concrete surface
  • Grassy field
  • Dirt field
  • Rubber running track

A hard surface, such as concrete, might create more impact or wear-and-tear on your knees if you do not run in appropriate posture. Running on a grassy field or on a dirt field affects your knees less, but if the surface is not flat or adequately kept you may stretch your ankle. Rubber running track is an appropriate surface for running since it provides excellent grip and is relatively comfortable on the knees.

Like rubber running tracks, the treadmill deck is also one of the best surface to run on, without affecting your knees too much. Since the upper side of the treadmill is of PVC rubber of high quality and the underside is constructed from cotton, mono- and polyester that can provide good grip for your shoes and the treadmill desk.

When running, the cotton on the underside of the treadmill walking belt can aid to decrease the impact on your knees. In comparison to other surfaces in the natural environment or man-made hard surfaces like concrete, the treadmill is well-engineered for running and quite safe for your knees.

Impact of Improper Running Form on Your Knees

Running form is the ultimate variable in determining not only how much stress is placed on areas such as the knee or achilles but also one of the main reason runners get injured.

By stepping down more forcefully, the amount that a person has to absorb will increase. Even if you walk with your heels as the initial point of contact, your knees are susceptible to injury. Because the knees are located between the ankle and hip joints, they are more vulnerable to injury if something goes wrong.

Even while the tendency of injury is ultimately dependent on one’s running technique, the majority of treadmill runners will run on their toes. When you run on your toes, your leg is formed in such a way that when your foot makes contact with the conveyor belt, your knee bends significantly. As a result, the knee can absorb a greater amount of force with each stride you take.

You can walk or run as quickly or as slowly as you wish when you run outdoors. You may modify your speed on the fly by simply moving your body. The speed of a treadmill, on the other hand, is always fixed after setting it. You can only go as quickly or as slowly as your treadmill allows. This is one of the main reasons why some runners experience pain when walking with their toes touching first.

Treadmill users should try to walk with the middle of their feet touching first. This helps to balance force on the way so that everything doesn’t go in one place.

The knee pain that might result from using a treadmill is caused not by the treadmill itself, but by how it is utilized. If you get knee pain when you’re running the treadmill, you are likely to do something on the treadmill, like walking first with the toes.

Impact of Incline on Your Knees

Does the incline on a treadmill can actually hurt your knees? Is running uphill on a treadmill bad for knees? Briefly, the answer is no.

It’s not beneficial for your knees or legs to run on a treadmill with a low-to-zero slope. Running on a treadmill with 0% incline isn’t the same as running on flat ground, Dr. Kevin Plancher (orthopaedic surgeon and the founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine) said. “A zero-percent incline is actually the equivalent of running at a slight downhill outdoors,” he adds. According to studies, because the tread belt forces a person forward, they tend to land with their foot in front of their body, which can collide with their locked knees and result in knee injury.

Philip Riches, a Scottish expert, also agreed that running on a treadmill with no inclination causes runners to run with their knees fairly straight. When the knees are straight, they cannot absorb impact correctly.

Running at sharp inclines, like up hills, can result in the painful condition known as “runner’s knee,” or known medically as patellofemoral stress syndrome. At these high-incline settings, ankle joints move less, making the knees compensate to carry the body up the hill.

Setting the treadmill’s inclination to +1-3% to replicate overground jogging is an easy approach to avoid this. As a result, your knee may land naturally under your body to allow you to run in good posture. So running on a treadmill with 1-3% incline won’t damage your knees.

Dr. Plancher says, running at a slight incline of 3% is optimal to avoid the unnatural movement patterns and to avoid knee injuries.

How to Reduce the Risk of Knee Injury on Treadmills

When running on a treadmill, the following tips will help you protect your knees:

  • To experiment with different walking patterns, begin by walking slowly on the treadmill, where you will have more time and control over each step. The heel-to-toe stride is an effective walking style. Allow your heel to make touch with the platform first, and then use your toe to elevate your foot off the ground. This is a safe manner to walk that is good for your knees, and it is quite simple to learn and practice on your own. The heel-toe technique distributes force across numerous joints, including the knee, ankle, and hip. As a result, your walk cycle will not cause as much pain to any one joint.                                                            
  • Warming up on a treadmill before running can enhance blood flow around your legs and knees and prevent muscles from tightening fast.                                                                               
  • If you have a history of knee difficulties, you should avoid any vigorous running on the conveyor belt. Many runners does not know how long should they run on a treadmill. Rather than attempting to run as fast as possible, run slowly and for a long time. You can select a step that does not cause any knee difficulties and that works for you. Try to make as little noise as possible. Quiet steps mean less impact on your knees.                                     
  • Always set the incline on the treadmill to roughly +1-3% in order to imitate the conditions, such as resistance, that would be encountered when jogging outside.                                                                                      
  • Another issue that you could be facing is the type of running shoes that you are currently wearing. In some cases, it is conceivable that you are not wearing shoes that are appropriate for running workouts. Wear shock absorbing running shoes in order to reduce the impact on muscles and knee joints.                                                                            
  • Socks can also provide cushioning to pad the feet. Wear high quality socks to reduce the impact of running.                                                                            
  • Use good quality knee braces to keep your knees away from injuries. It also stabilizes and supports your bad joints.

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