A treadmill is a piece of excellent equipment to stay fit and lose weight in the comfort of your home. But are treadmills bad for your knees?
Comparing treadmills vs. road running for bad knees, the treadmills are the winner thanks to some fantastic cushioning technology in treadmills these days — meaning they’re not bad for your knees. Most treadmills have built-in cushioning to the deck that can give you a smooth run that is easy on your joints and helps keep them healthy in the long run. However, how efficiently your treadmill protects your knees may depend on the machine’s quality and your training form, intensity, and workout volume.
Read the article to know if all the treadmills are good/bad for your knees and what your budget should be to get a treadmill with a superior cushioning system. I will also give you some tips for using a treadmill without inviting injury in the future.
Are Treadmills Bad For Your Knees?
Long story short, NO. However, it depends on your budget and the treadmill you’ve chosen.
For example, if your budget is under a thousand dollars, you’re likely to get a treadmill with basic cushioning technology, which may not be very efficient in reducing shocks compared to a treadmill with about $1500 or higher.
Remember, “you get what you pay for with treadmill cushioning.”
We recommend choosing a treadmill for about $1500 or higher to get a machine with an excellent shock absorption system because, in the end, it will affect your health, so don’t compromise with it.
The Bottom Line: Even if you’re buying a budget treadmill, you’ll likely get a decent cushioning system compared to outdoor running (which has no cushioning). Choosing a treadmill over a concrete road for walking/running is a better idea, especially when you have injured knees.
Choosing the Right Treadmill for Bad Knees
The first thing you need to check out is a good shock absorption deck.
Many treadmills have multiple ways of shock absorption within the deck itself (i.e., a multiple-layer belt) and with the polymers connecting the deck to the frame.
You may find one, two, or even three-zone (polymer) shock absorption support in some models. Try to get the multiple support cushioning system which will help you get the ideal amount of flex and joint support for all phases of your stride.
Another thing you want a check is belt size. We recommend a 16″ x 50″ belt for walking, whereas joggers and runners need a slightly larger deck, such as 20″ x 55″ and 20″ x 60″, respectively.
If you’re on the larger side or have a wider walking style, getting a treadmill with a 20″ wider deck will help you get a more comfortable training experience.
Also, a treadmill with longer handles may give you balance and support during training. Longer handles become more crucial if you’re a senior or recovering from an injury.
You can head over to this article to learn more about choosing the best treadmill with suitable motor horsepower, speed, incline, weight capacity, and warranty.
The Bottom Line: When choosing a treadmill for bad knees, get a treadmill with a larger deck, an excellent cushioning system, and longer handles (if needed) for optimal comfort and support.
Does Treadmill Incline Hurt Your Knees?
The incline elevates the treadmill’s deck to make the workout more challenging and help us strengthen our lower body and burn more calories in less time.
But, running on a high-incline surface for too long can cause wear and tear to the knee and patellar tendon (the muscles at the front of the thighs), which is harmful to the knees in the long term.
Higher inclines often demand increased effort from the runner, which can be hard on the knees and ankles — sometimes, training on a higher incline for an extended period may cause sharp knee pain.
How can you avoid injury while running on an inclined treadmill?
Most running treadmills offer about a 1% to 15% incline. However, some incline trainers may have higher up to 45%, which are created for special purposes.
If you have knee pain, you shouldn’t go over 3% to avoid the unnatural movement patterns caused by walking or running.
As with all things, moderation is key. If something hurts, stop doing it. Instead, you can do other activities like biking, swimming, or using an elliptical trainer to get similar health benefits without exposing your knees.
The Bottom Line: Running on a higher incline, like 15%, for a long period may cause knee and ankle pain. You can incorporate higher and lower incline levels into your workout to enjoy different road running experiences without hurting your knees. Be sure to keep it moderate.
Tips to Avoid Injury When Using a Treadmill
Here’re the tips you should follow to avoid injury when exercising on the treadmill.
1. Wear the Right Footwear: It’s important to put on the right cushioning shoes that can provide extra support to your joints and make walking easy. The closed-toe athletic shoes with 1-inch high or slightly lower soles work best to protect your ankles. And be sure to thread the shoelaces through the top loop for a secure fit.
2. Warm-Up: Before jumping on the treadmill, do some stretches and dynamic movements, especially your lower body, to loosen and activate your joints and muscles. You can also do a 3-5 minute walk on the treadmill to warm your body up.
3. Start Walking the Right Way: When you step into the treadmill, hold the handrails, attach the safety key to your body, start the machine at a slow speed, and start walking in the center of the belt. Be sure you know all the necessary buttons and their functions on the treadmill.
4. Set the Incline: You can set a slight incline (like 3%) to reduce the impact on your knees, joints, hips, and back. If you have healthy joints, you can increase the incline levels to challenge yourself and enjoy hill running. Make sure you are not overdoing it.
5. Focus on Your Form: When running on the treadmill, make sure your feet should pointing straight ahead, your toes are turned out, and you’re swinging your arms at your sides. Be sure you’re looking straight in the front and not leaning too forward.
6. Cooldown Properly: After finishing your session, cool down your body with 3-5 minutes of walking, or you can stretch your total body.
If you want to know more about good treadmill running form and make your workout more effective, you can read the article about 9 tips for a perfect treadmill workout.
Signs You’re Overexciding Your Workout
Typically our body needs about 4 to 16 weeks to adapt and get used too to a new workout routine, and it’s no exception for the treadmill. 
In this phase, you may experience some pain, muscle soreness, and swelling — it’s completely normal and will vanish over time.
Although mild soreness after a treadmill workout is normal, if you overdo it, your knees will hurt, and you will likely feel a sharp pain in the knees or ankles.
Try to keep things in moderation. If something creates pain, stop doing it.
Doing shorter walks or taking an extra day off (when necessary) can help you ease the pain in the first few weeks of your workout routine.
You can put an ice pack on your knees for 15-20 minutes to reduce pain.