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Causes for Leg Pain When Using a Treadmill

author image Martin Booe
Martin Booe writes about health, wellness and the blues. His byline has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Bon Appetit. He lives in Los Angeles.
Causes for Leg Pain When Using a Treadmill
Treadmills are a versatile fitness tool. Photo Credit Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images

Treadmills provide a shock-absorbent running surface that you can control, allowing you to avoid rough or uneven surfaces. That can be great when you're coming back from an injury or just getting your walking, jogging or running legs back in good form.

Using a treadmill isn't necessarily a pain-free experience, however. Understanding the possible causes of the leg pain can help you avoid discomfort and injury on the treadmill.

Read More: How to Reduce Calf Pain When Running

Check Your Stride

The very thing that makes treadmills desirable in some situations is what can cause injury in others: uniformity. On a treadmill, your gait and foot placement are likely to fall into a repeat mode that could make you prone to repetitive stress injuries such as inflamed tendons or strained ligaments. Shin splints are a common result of repetitive motion.

Treadmills also cause your gait to lengthen and often cause your foot to strike the ground closer to the heel. Your body could be absorbing shock in places it's not used to, riling up some of the smaller muscles along your spine and between your ribs, then down to your pelvis and hips. The remedy for this is to deliberately pick your foot off the treadmill belt as you complete your stride.

Leg pain can keep you from exercise.
Leg pain can keep you from exercise. Photo Credit Piotr Marcinski/Hemera/Getty Images

Failure to Warm Up

Warming up before you exercise is not a folk superstition. It prepares the muscles for action. Warm up before you use a treadmill and you may find you avoid acres of agony.

The best strategy for warming up before running is to walk at a brisk pace for 5 or 10 minutes, then do dynamic stretching exercises like lunges, leg swings and butt kickers.

Degenerative Disk Disease

In some cases, leg pain is telegraphed from nerves in the lower back. This can occur because of injuries to the back or spine, or because of decay of one of the lumbar discs that protect the spinal cord from injury by absorbing shock. The discs can become ruptured or slip out of place, putting pressure on the nerve roots around the spinal column. Pain can travel down the leg, causing sciatica.

The impact on your spine from using the treadmill could cause disc compression, sending pain signals to your legs. Here again, yoga for sciatica could be your best bet. It is in fact recommended in the first line of defense against it in the current American College of Physicians treatment guidelines.


Have you just recently begun your treadmill voyage? You could be suffering from a case of delayed onset muscle soreness, which is a long winded way of saying that your muscles got sore from exercises.

In this case, backing off a bit is permissible, as is light stretching, plenty of water and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. NSAIDs should not be taken before using a treadmill, especially on an empty stomach, as exercise causes them to permeate and possibly damage the intestinal lining.

Read More: Headaches the Day After Physical Activity

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