Are treadmill workouts good for your knees? Sometimes. Are treadmill workouts bad for your knees? Sometimes. To treadmill or not to treadmill, that is the question. The answer? It depends how you use a treadmill, whether a treadmill is easier or tougher on your knees than alternative forms of exercise, whether you already have knee problems and the amount of cushioning on the treadmill you're using.
A treadmill provides more cushion than running or walking on a road, so it absorbs shock better. As a result, your knees and other joints will not take the same kind of beating when you use a treadmill. On the other hand, a treadmill is harder than other surfaces you could run on, such as a well-cushioned track or a golf course. Bottom line -- a treadmill can be a better or worse surface to run on than other alternatives in terms of your knees.
Running is considered to be a high-impact exercise and walking is considered to be low impact. If you run on a treadmill, you're putting substantially more pressure on your knees than if you walk on a treadmill. According to MayoClinic.com, walking on a treadmill and using an elliptical machine create a similarly low impact on your body. If you already suffer from knee pain, running on a treadmill can exacerbate your condition.
Running or Walking Backward
No, it's not a joke. Research cited by Courtenay Schurman at the Wilderness Sports Conditioning website indicates that running or walking backward, which can be done on a treadmill, reduces the force on your knees. This can be helpful if you experiences pain when walking up or down stairs and hills. If your knees bark when you do lunges or squats, backward walking might help. In addition, traveling backward might move your rehabilitation forward if you have hamstring injuries or lack flexibility in your hamstrings or lower back.
Other Fitness Options
There are a range of other activities that can be substituted for a treadmill in order to preserve your knees while achieving your fitness goals. In addition to an elliptical machine, you have such low-impact options as swimming, cycling or riding a stationary bike. If you are a die-hard runner, MayoClinic.com recommends mixing cross-training, low-impact workouts with your treadmill workouts to help preserve your knees and other joints.
The NetWellness site, which offers medical information from a number of partner universities, states that properly fitted running or walking shoes with plenty of shock absorption take stress off the knees when you use a treadmill. Fast walking, as opposed to running, is recommended if you are concerned about your knees. A good conditioning program aimed at strengthening your knees also is advisable. Work on your quads, hamstrings and calf muscles in particular. Although research is mixed, the supplements glucosamine and condriton help reduce knee pain for some people with arthritis. If you already suffer from knee problems or other health problems, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- NetWellness: Treadmill Affects on the Knees?
- MayoClinic.com: Are Elliptical Machines Better Than Treadmills for Basic Aerobic Workouts?
- NetWellness: Treadmill vs. Outdoor Running: What's the Difference?
- Wilderness Sports Conditioning: Backwards Walking for Rehabilitation of Lower Extremities
- Columbia University: Go Ask Alice: Track versus Treadmill
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.