Causes for Leg Pain When Using a Treadmill

When the weather is too hot during the summer, rainy in the spring, or cold and snowing in the winter, the treadmill often replaces the outdoor track or road. The treadmill helps you continue running, jogging or walking during conditions where running outside is not necessarily an option. However, just like performing these exercise activities outside, your intensity and fitness level can contribute to pain or soreness, especially in your legs.

Woman running on treadmill (Image: YanLev/iStock/Getty Images)

Muscle Building

One of the more common causes of treadmill-related leg pain is as a side effect of the natural muscle growth process. When you work your muscles on a treadmill beyond the normal amount of resistance they typically experience during regular activity, you can develop tiny tears in the muscle tissue. These tears activate the natural muscle building process as cells rush to the damaged areas to heal and build the muscle fibers stronger. However, the tears can also cause pain and soreness, which will typically subside once the tissue has been healed. The amount of pain or soreness from this process depends on how intense your working out on the treadmill, as well as your overall fitness level. If you are new to exercise, or you are pushing yourself to a new level of exercise, you will be more likely to develop soreness.

Muscle Injury

A more rare cause of leg pain on a treadmill is an actual muscle injury. Muscle injuries can vary in severity from a light pull to a muscle like the calves or hamstrings, to more severe muscle strains or tears. These types of injuries are more common if you are running or pushing yourself above your fitness level. This injury may also develop from fall or miss-stepping while on the treadmill.

Ligament or Tendon Injuries

Other connective tissues may be injured as well while on a treadmill, resulting in leg pain. Tendons attach muscles to bones, while ligaments connect bones or cartilage together. While both tissues are designed to have some stretch to them, exercising too intensely on the treadmill, or falling on the treadmill can cause the tissues to stretch past their limits, resulting in a sprained ligament, a strained tendon, or a torn ligament or tendon.

Treatment

Different treatments are available for treadmill-related leg pain depending on how severe the pain or injury is. One of the first methods of treatment is the RICE method. This consists of resting the affected leg, icing the leg to help reduce any swelling and to dampen pain, placing compression on the leg if needed, and keeping the leg elevated above the heart to help with inflammation. Over-the-counter medicines like pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications can also be used to help control the leg pain. If your leg pain does not subside in a couple days, or gets worse or is accompanied by severe inflammation, talk to your doctor to ensure that further treatment is not needed.

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