10 Tips for Using the Treadmill Safely with Arthritis

Treadmills seem simple, but they can be hazardous, particularly for people with joint or balance issues. Trying to catch yourself when you lose your balance can result in muscle strains or injury in almost any joint, says physical therapist Mary Ann Wilmarth, CEO of Back2Back Physical Therapy in Andover, Mass.

“Injuries can go all the way up the kinetic chain when people slip and try to recover by catching themselves. This can mean foot injuries, strained or sprained ankles, shoulders and wrists – as well as the back and hips if you’re twisting as you lose balance,” she says.

You can protect yourself by using these tips to tread more safely.

  1. Use a full-sized treadmill with side rails. The belt should be at least 22 inches wide and 50 inches long, and the machine should have handrails on both sides you can use for balance.
  2. Wear sturdy, low-heeled athletic shoes. Soles higher than 1 inch can lead to ankle rollovers. Use the topmost shoelace hole for extra stability.
  3. Learn the controls. Before you step on, get familiar with how to adjust the speed, incline and especially the red “fast-stop” button.
  4. Use the safety key. Before you hit start, clip the safety key to your shirt so if you slip, the machine will stop immediately.
  5. Start, then step on. Hold the rail and stand on either side of the belt as you start it at a low speed. Then step on the belt and increase speed slowly.
  6. Use a slight incline. An incline of about 2% can reduce impact on the spine, hips, knees, feet and ankles, but a steeper climb increases joint stress.
  7. Find the right stride. You’ll know it’s on target when you’re walking comfortably – not overstretching your lead leg – with arms swinging freely.
  8. Look straight ahead. Looking down or around can throw off your balance and cause you to trip.
  9. Stay centered. Know where you are on the belt and avoid drifting sideways or toward the back of the belt.
  10. Catch Your Fall. If you start to fall while you’re on the treadmill, hit the emergency stop button, grasp the rails and move your feet to one side. Step off and sit down until you’ve recovered.

Use the NuStep as an alternative, if you are currently using tools for walking assistance such as canes, walkers, wheel chairs or are having balance issues. Persons with balance issues should not attempt to use the treadmill unless you are assisted by a physical therapist.

Mary Hand is available to train you on the treadmill and the other equipment in the Oasis. Never use exercise equipment if you have questions about how to use it. Exercise is important, but your safety is more important.