It’s not easy recovering from an injury; it can be a long and frustrating process. For runners it can be particularly exasperating as runners are very dedicated to their sport. This is where a treadmill can help speed up the process as it uses the same muscle groups but with less stress allowing the body to adjust in a controlled and appropriate way.
When you start to work the injury to get it back to functioning normally it is important that movement and forces placed on the injury replicates that of the sport you wish to practice. An exercise bike or a rowing machine may help to an extent but a treadmill is highly specific and a perfect tool to provide an effortless transition from indoor rehabilitation to outdoor running.
Treadmills have cushioned decks that minimize skeletal and muscular shock reducing the forces travelling through the body and the moving belt means less effort is required compared to running on the road. Injured runners find they can run on a treadmill when they cannot run outside.
When the time is right to attempt a run on a treadmill the idea should be to train the body to get use to the movement and stresses of running again more than a cardiovascular endurance exercise. You should start very slowly indeed. If you used a scale of one to ten, ten being a flat out sprint, you would start on level one. If you are a serious runner you may find this very tedious but it is all about recovery and accomplishing a run without pain or symptoms. You will find that even 5 minutes will be beneficial because as you move those muscles the blood will flow through them improving flexibility and stability.
The great advantage of a treadmill is that it allows you to maintain a stride length. Short strides are better than long ones although it may feel a bit strange trying to keep to 85-90 strides, which is the recommended stride length for rehab. Long strides can increase the risk of injury as they cause eccentric contractions. This is were a muscle is lengthened while under tension and often takes place while speed running or running downhill. A higher stride rate will encourage you to perform a spinning action with your legs and by maintaining the legs underneath torso and pelvis will aid this spinning motion. This high stride rate will also make your running more efficient, and not only less likely to aggravate the injury but actually help with its recovery.
Speed is another controlling factor when using a treadmill. Your speed should be kept to a minimum. Fast running will increase the risk of more damage and it is stride rate that is more important. However as you recover and become pain free you could introduce small bouts of interval running but keep the intervals short. Also warm up properly. Remember you are doing light exercise to help with recuperation and get your body familiarised with the extra forces being placed on it and not intense training.
Incline treadmill work can be beneficial to many injuries. It keeps the speed down, reduces the impact forces and builds muscle strength. The incline will vary depending on the injury but 3-8% is the normal range. The stride rate should still be kept at 85-90 strides per minute and the entire body should lean into the incline and not just bent at the waist. Imagine a straight line drawn between your foot and head. Again this is a rehab exercise not a hill run.
Tips when using a treadmill for rehabilitation.
1) Warm up prior to the rehab workout to avoid re-injury
2) Start with small intervals of low intensity
3) The object is to get the muscles and joints strong and flexible not an aerobic workout
4) Cross train with an elliptical trainer that is impact free to help accelerate aerobic fitness.
5) Gradually add intervals of faster running
6) If the injury allows adjust the incline. Stop if you cannot tolerate it.
7) Keep stride rate between 85-90 strides per minute.
8) Build up the time on the treadmill to prepare you for outdoor running
9) When you venture running outside intersperse it with treadmill running for the first few weeks to prevent re-injury.