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Preventing Injuries: Treadmill vs Running Outside

For runners, the repetitive motion and impact of shifting your body weight from one foot to the other can cause wear and tear over time. Whether you’re just starting out or completing your second marathon, you may experience heel, foot, knee and lower back pain at some point.

Injuries and strains can interrupt your training schedule and may even discourage you from exercising, but did you know that choosing between a treadmill and running outside could help to prevent injuries? Especially in our area, people want to run inside to avoid the heat, but are afraid that treadmills are bad for them. The truth may surprise you.

Running Outside is Not a “Better Workout”

Many athletes choose to run outside because they believe it is a more effective and efficient workout than using a treadmill. It is thought that wind resistance and the power it takes to propel yourself forward makes running outside the superior form of exercise. It’s also a misconception that running on a treadmill is bad for your muscles. But, studies show that setting the treadmill at a one percent incline mimics the energetic cost of outdoor running. From a performance standpoint, there is no advantage to using one over the other. But both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Injury Risks When Running

Treadmill Running

When running on a treadmill, everything around you is controlled. You’re in a temperature controlled environment, the speed is exactly the same and the incline is unchanging. Because of this, you won’t trip over a curb or slip on a slick surface.

But, the treadmill leaves you more susceptible to overuse injuries. Because there is no variance in speed and incline, certain muscles and tendons will be impacted and stressed more than others. Repeating the exact same movement, step after step, puts your joints at risk.

Outdoor Running

Running outside provides more variety. Each step you take is going to be different because of obstacles, changing slopes and uneven surfaces. This factor has been found to strengthen key areas of muscles and ligaments.

However, it’s more likely that you’ll slip on a wet surface or trip on a curb, which can result in a twisted knee / ankle or broken bone. In addition, the risk of knee ligament wear and tear is much greater for those who run on pavement since there is very little “give” to the ground.

Which Should I Choose?

Depending on the situation, it could be beneficial to use a combination of both. When the weather is unfavorable, it is best to stay safe and run on the treadmill indoors. To avoid overuse injuries, be sure to vary your speed and incline occasionally. This will solve the issue of overused muscles.

If the weather is favorable, head outside! To limit the impact on your knees, avoid running on pavement when possible. Find an area that has a softer ground cover. Rubber athletic tracks, grass, dirt trails and even sand are all great options!

No matter which option you choose, the benefits of cardiovascular exercises far outweigh the risks. Consult with your doctor on the best training regimen for you. Our sports medicine specialists can give you the best advice for your regimen, and when you do find yourself in a situation where you’re injured from running, they’re here to treat you!


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