Treadmill Exercise Leading to Ankle Pain

A close-up of a woman's feet in red running shoes on a treadmill.
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Exercising on a treadmill can be a convenient and safe way to engage in cardio exercise and strengthen the muscles of the lower body and core. Treadmills are not without their caveats, however, and those with ankle pain after treadmill use may be running toward an injury rather than a healthier body.

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Uphill Struggle

Many treadmills have incline settings that move the belt at an angle to mimic climbing a hill. While this is a good way to add challenge to your workout, it's possible to hurt yourself if the incline is steep and your speed is too high. According to Weight Watchers, an incline may overtax the dorsiflexor muscles, the muscles on the front of the shin that attach to the front of the ankle. Stretching your calf muscles, taking more time to warm up, and lowering the speed and incline may help solve this problem.


Sprain Pain

If you recently lost your balance on the treadmill or stepped off it awkwardly, you may have overstretched the ligaments in your ankle, causing a sprained ankle. A mild sprain may not be immediately noticeable, resulting in subtle symptoms such as swelling and tenderness. Put ice on your ankle, wrap it with a bandage to reduce swelling and elevate it above your heart. If discomfort doesn't go away, visit a doctor or physical therapist.

Overuse It and Lose It

Because the surface of a treadmill belt never changes, treadmills lend themselves well to overuse injuries. Repetitive motions can cause wear and tear to the peroneal tendon of the ankle, especially if you have high arches. According to OrthoGate, pain is often on the outer edge of the ankle and worsens with activity. You may need to visit a physical therapist, who may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, give you exercises or stretches to do or recommend that you wear support for your feet.


Preventing Pain

Running and walking on varied terrain helps prevent overuse injuries, as each step is different. You may find it helpful to replace some of your treadmill workouts with a walk or hike outdoors, as this will prevent falling into an identical movement pattern. Wear shoes that support your feet and are not worn out. You may need insoles or a supportive brace. Always warm up before you work out to give your muscles time to adapt to a faster speed.


Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.