Treadmill running is a healthy alternative to running on concrete.
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Choosing a running surface, whether it is concrete, dirt, sand or treadmill, is usually a matter of preference, and different options provide a variety of pros and cons for running safety. Treadmill running is a popular choice not only because it allows you to run in a controlled environment without worrying about traffic and bad weather, but also because, when done properly, it can be an effective way to run with less impact and protect your knees.
Running on hard surfaces like concrete can be dangerous because the road does not absorb the impact of your stride. To combat this hazard, treadmills are often designed with padding beneath the moving belt that softens the blow on the feet and helps prevent knee injury. Also, running on hills or on cambered roads can place extra stress on the footstrike, which can increase the impact on your knees. In contrast, treadmills provide you with a flat running surface and the ability to control the angle of the terrain you run on.
Runners don't always use good form on a treadmill, which can be detrimental to knee health. People tend to bounce up and down when they run on treadmills more than they do on roads, either because they are unconsciously trying to save energy by spending less time on the belt, or the speed they have selected is too slow. This motion decreases efficiency and increases the impact on the heel and knees. Treadmill runners also tend to overstride, or reach their legs too far forward on each stride, which also causes pressure on the heel and knees.
Variables to Consider
Treadmills, like roads, come in various types, and not all are equally sound options for knee protection. Cheaper versions, such as those often purchased for home use or found in lower-quality gyms, may have less padding for shock absorption or none at all. If you are buying a treadmill, this is the most important feature to invest in. Also, like running shoes, treadmills wear down with use, and may eventually require the belt or padding to be replaced in order to ensure protection for your knees and other joints.
Treadmills all force you to run in a confined space. This means there is a danger of over-, under- or side-stepping off the belt and falling during a run. To help prevent such missteps, use the hand-rails or other stabilizers provided. Allow your stride to adjust to speed changes by increasing or decreasing speed gradually. If you are using a treadmill to avoid knee pain but the problem continues or worsens, stop running and seek the advice of a medical professional.