Having a treadmill at home is a huge perk. You can walk, jog, or run whenever the mood strikes, even on crappy weather days. But some recent reports of children being injured on and around treadmills have raised big questions about treadmill safety.
There were an estimated 22,500 treadmill-related injuries treated at U.S. emergency departments in 2019 in Americans of all ages, according to data shared with Women’s Health from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). And around 2,000 of those were children under the age of eight. Between 2018 and 2020, the CPSC also received 17 reports of people dying of injuries linked to using a treadmill, including a 5-year-old child.
“Treadmills have their unique safety risks, such as a moving belt and distractions from the touchscreen,” Lewis Nelson, MD, professor and chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and chief of service in the emergency department at University Hospital.
This is all a lot to take in, and it’s understandable that you might give your treadmill the side-eye after hearing it. But doctors say you shouldn’t turn your treadmill into an expensive clothes drying rack because of safety concerns.
“Treadmills can give you a great workout,” says Natasha Trentacosta, MD, pediatric and adult sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. “You can run for your cardiovascular health, and that shouldn’t be written off because of accidents.”
Still, doctors say you need to be smart about using your treadmill. Here’s what you need to know—and how to lower the odds you or someone you love will be injured on your machine.
What are the biggest risks with using a treadmill?
A few things can go wrong. These are the biggest potential issues:
- You can fall. “Injuries often occur while mounting or dismounting, given the need to rapidly start or stop moving,” Dr. Nelson says.
- You can “burn” your skin. Falling while you’re working out can also lead to skin “burns” from the moving belt running over your skin, rubbing aggressively at it.The belt “on many models is intentionally rough for better shoe grip,” Dr. Nelson says, and that can damage your skin.
- You can slip or trip. “One of the biggest worries we have is if you slip or trip and fall off,” Dr. Trentacosta says. That’s especially concerning, she says if your treadmill is on a hard floor or next to a wall.
- Children and pets can get trapped. “Children and pets can get caught by the belt, leading to serious injury,” Dr. Nelson says.
So, are treadmills safe to use?
Yes, if you take the right precautions. While there are things that can go wrong when you use a treadmill, that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily happen. “Treadmills are generally safe for running since they provide more stable footing, consistent pacing, and an overall less stressful workout,” Dr. Nelson says. The biggest thing you should be concerned about is that the intensity of your workout matches your overall health, especially your heart health, he says.
Dr. Trentacosta agrees. “In general, treadmills are safe to use if used properly and in the right setting,” she says.
How can you prevent treadmill injuries?
There are actually a bunch of things you can do to lower your risk of getting a treadmill injury:
- Always use the safety key. That little clip you attach to your body is there for a reason. It will cut off the power if you fall. “It definitely helps if you lose your balance and fall off,” Dr. Trentacosta says. “It will stop the treadmill from spinning.”
- Stay off your phone when you’re using the treadmill. “Pay attention and look ahead to avoid losing your balance or footing,” Dr. Nelson says. “Checking texts or email distracts your attention and lowers your eyes.” Watching TV is OK, he says, because it’s hands-free.
- Place padding underneath the machine. Consider buying an exercise pad to go under your treadmill. This can help provide cushioning in case you fall, Dr. Trentacosta says. (Really, any pad is better than a hard floor.)
- Stick to the center of your treadmill. Running too close to the sides of the belt increases the odds that your foot might get caught, causing you to trip or fall, Dr. Nelson says.
- Don’t position your treadmill next to a wall. If you can help it, Dr. Trentacosta recommends pulling your treadmill away from the wall so that you won’t be accidentally slammed into it if you happen to fall.
- Keep kids away from your machine. “Keep it in a locked room or with a gate around it,” Dr. Trentacosta says. And, since older kids may be able to turn on the treadmill, Dr. Trentacosta also recommends unplugging the machine when it’s not in use.
The TL;DR? If you love your treadmill, keep on keeping on. Just be safe about it.
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