Is Treadmill Running Bad for Your Knees? All You Have To Know

 Written by 

Julien Raby

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Is Treadmill running bad for your knees? We’ve all heard this one before. It’s time to explore that question.

In this article, we want to talk about common questions such as “Is treadmill running bad for your knees?” and “Will treadmill running cause arthritis?” Also, we are going to cover the five best tips for preventing knee pain while running on a treadmill. Let’s dive right in.

someone wondering if treadmill running is bad for their knees
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A group of people wondering if treadmill running is bad for the knees
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Is Treadmill Running Bad for Your Knees?

Most people think that the more you run the more arthritis you are at risk of getting. And that’s because when we run on a treadmill, we are loading our joints and this would theoretically lead to gradual wear and tear. And osteoarthritis is caused by the gradual wear and tear and the eventual loss of cartilage. So, logically this would make sense. But in reality, the opposite might be true.

Recreational running is actually preventative. That means that running on a treadmill may protect the knee and prevent arthritis from getting worse. In addition, people who suffer from osteoarthritis may feel better the more they walk and the more they run. And this is supported by many observational studies.

Daily exercise and exercise therapy such as walking or jogging are considered first-line treatments for osteoarthritis. But why would that be?

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Why Treadmill Running Is Good for Your Knees

When we walk, run, or move, our joints naturally produce lubrication. And this lubrication helps keep everything moving nice and smoothly. But if we ever stop moving, we stop producing lubrication and knees are more likely to get stiff and wear down. This is very much an oversimplification. But all you need to remember is motion.

The Benefits of Treadmill Running for Your Knees

Running on a treadmill has tons of benefits:

  1. It’s protective of our overall health. It decreases rates of high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, heart disease, and dementia;
  2. It increases bone and knee health;
  3. Using cardio machines gives a major boost to our mental health;
  4. It also helps us sleep better and gives us more energy.

Risks of Arthritis

Lack of exercise or sedentary behavior is a known risk factor for developing arthritis. However, high-impact exercise and elite-level training may be risk factors for increased rates of arthritis.

So, what we are shooting for is the sweet spot where recreational treadmill running and jogging fall in. Getting regular exercise gives us healthy knees and a lot of health benefits. It prevents the development and progression of arthritis.

Anatomy to show if treadmill running is bad for your knees
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Source: www.hopkinsmedicine.org

Myth: Running Causes Knee Osteoarthritis

The British Journal of Sports Medicine posted an excellent infographic that summarizes much of what we know about running and arthritis. Here are the key points:

1. Recreational running is not harmful for knee joint articular cartilage in runners without symptomatic knee osteoarthritis.

2. Easy running may provide a protective effect against the development of knee and hip osteoarthritis.

3. Higher rates of the knee and hip osteoarthritis have been reported in non-runners and runners exposed to sustained elite-level training loads. However, they go on to say that it is unclear whether these associations are causative or confounded by other knee osteoarthritis risk factors such as the previous injury.

For example, a person who has torn their acl is going to have a much higher rate of arthritis. And high-level athletes just have more chances of getting injured. So, this may explain why rates of osteoarthritis are actually seen higher in high-activity and elite-training individuals.

Does Treadmill Running Cause Knee Osteoarthritis?

The rumor that running damages your knees comes from the historic and factually incorrect belief that osteoarthritis purely arises as a result of wear and tear. But osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that causes the breakdown of cartilage and results in pain and inflammation in the area.

The most common risk factors are: 

1. Age, weight, and sex;

2. Also, it is more common in women than in men;

3. Genetics joint injuries;

4. And further down that list comes repeated stress on knees.

You’re probably thinking that sounds a lot like running. But conditioned runners have a lower risk of osteoarthritis than normal sedentary or overweight people.

We’re not saying obviously that running will never cause any injuries or knee pain. But the fear that running will wear out the knees just simply isn’t true. It’s actually thought that weight bearing in the form of running helps to stimulate the cartilage in your knees to repair and remain strong. So, we’ve debunked pretty much the standout myth linking knee pain and running together.

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Common Knee Injuries

Let’s quickly run through some injuries that are commonly associated with treadmill running. Obviously, we’ve got to start with the runner’s knee.

Runner’s Knee

This is where there’s unnatural pressure on the kneecap pushing down upon the knee joint. And this is often due to the patella moving incorrectly. It often stems from issues or tightness further up the leg.

Patella Tendonitis

This is when we have inflammation of the patella tendon also known as jumper’s knee. And this is a result often of explosive movements.

Bursitis

This is inflammation of the bursas. It’s small fluid-filled sacs that are normally there to help reduce friction. But unfortunately, when they do become inflamed, they almost seem to do everything but that. And there are several of those within each of the joints. 

If you do end up with bursitis, it may be a result of increasing your volume or mileage too quickly.

Those are just a few injuries. Unfortunately, there’s a whole host of other injuries out there. And we’ve only mentioned one type of tendonitis. There are numerous tendons that are working within the knee and they can all, unfortunately, become inflamed. But patellar tendonitis does tend to be quite a common one.

Trauma

We mean, you may have had a skiing accident years ago that damaged your knee and that can re-manifest itself at a later date due to imbalances and weaknesses.

If You Have Arthritis of the Knee

So, treadmill running isn’t bad for your knees and doesn’t cause arthritis or accelerate existing knee osteoarthritis. If you are a runner diagnosed with knee arthritis, you should feel safe continuing to run. But now the question becomes “How do you do it safely?” “How do you put your body in the best position possible to prevent injury?” Especially, if you do have arthritis.

Sunny Health & Fitness Electric Treadmill
Based on our testing, this is the best budget treadmill for beginners. For less than 400$, it has most essential features that you've come to expect, it's small and sturdy, frankly it offers great value for money. It's also backed with an 8 years warranty.

All treadmill runners are already at particularly high risk of knee damage. For example, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, and patellar tendonitis. This is why we want to go over five best practices that will help you. Especially, if you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis and you’re trying to get back into treadmill running as quickly and as safely as possible.

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Tips for Protecting Your Knees While Running on a Treadmill

1. Step by Step

Start slow and build up distance and speed. Avoid going too hard. If you’re starting to run pushing yourself too hard and too fast, you will increase your risk of injury. Consider having more frequent rest days, especially in the beginning. Also, go on a shorter lower-intensity run. As your conditioning improves, you start building up more speed and distance.

2. Cross train

Cross-training means getting involved in different types of exercise. Running is excellent for our overall health, it is a full-body motion. But we’re usually going only forwards. 

Getting involved in other types of exercise that have more side-to-side motions can help build strength in other types of muscle groups. And it prevents injuries. So, excellent types of cross-training activities for runners include strength training as well as yoga.

3. Stretch 

After any indoor treadmill workouts, it is critically important to cool down and stretch. Otherwise, over time your muscles are going to get tighter. And that’s going to result in decreased range of motion. This is especially problematic for those who have arthritis, whose range of motion is already limited.

4. Conditioning

By conditioning, we don’t mean necessarily going to the gym and having to throw a load of weights around. You can easily do this from home. Some simple activation and mobility exercises essentially allow you to be strong and balanced and run with good form. And with that, the mobility work will help to keep your muscles nice and lengthened, so that you can run in a good form without fighting against yourself. 

5. Proper Footwear

Make sure you have proper footwear. This means not only getting running shoes that fit properly but changing them out when they get worn out. And when you change them out, you may want to visit a reputable running store. The employees there now are not medical professionals but many of them are excellent at evaluating people’s feet. 

Are your feet overpronated? Do you have wide feet? Do you have flat feet? All of these will affect the type of shoe that you will eventually want to select.

6. If You Feel Pain

If you have pain when you are running on a treadmill, you need to stop running. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Get checked out by a sports medicine doctor so that they can help you return to activity as quickly and as safely as possible.

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Is Treadmill Running Bad for Your Knees: FAQs

Do treadmills damage your knees?

Is treadmill running bad for your knees? No, and we stand by that despite numerous injuries that could be associated with running. Because, for the most part, these injuries are caused by either forgetting and ignoring or simply not being aware of some of the measures to prevent them. And the main reason is the bad run form. You need to work on your run form.

Let’s not forget that the knee joint is essentially a hinge joint. It’s designed to work in a linear plane. So doing the exercises to help with the form is going to be invaluable and work not just on the legs but also further up the chain too.

How do I protect my knees when running on a treadmill?

Here are the top ten ways to avoid injury while running on a treadmill:

1. Stay focused on going forward.

2. Maintaining good posture. It’s easy to slouch or not be thinking about it as you start to get tired, but remember we’re standing tall with the shoulders back.

3. Wear the proper shoes.

4. Don’t slap your feet on the treadmill. If you can hear yourself running, try to run lightly and quickly. You want those footfalls to be much quieter.

5. Don’t get distracted. Kids, dogs, family, whatever it might be, looking around is a great way to find yourself falling off.

6. Don’t perform the same workout every time. Using the same muscles over and over can cause some repetitive injury, so make sure to switch it up.

7. Swing your arms. It’s important to make sure that you’re using a good arm swing. Forward and back, arms about 90 degrees. None of the up-and-down chopping.

8. Don’t take too long of a stride. The treadmill helps a little bit with this thanks to treadmill decks. So, you want to think of making sure you have natural strides. That means your feet land under you for each foot stride.

9. Don’t push yourself too hard. The built-in programs are great, but make sure you’re using them at your level. 10. Don’t rely on the handlebars. Unless you’re worried about falling, try to let go. And make sure that you’re using your full body for an effective treadmill workout.

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About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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