By Kim Smiley
Did you know that treadmills are the riskiest exercise machines? I sure didn’t, but I have to admit that I have fallen off one before. (Based on conversations with my coworkers, this isn’t all that uncommon.) As recent headlines have made clear, using a treadmill safely may not be quite as simple as it seems.
According to data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, about 19,000 people went to the emergency room (ER) because of treadmill injuries in 2009, which is about triple the number of injuries reported in 1991. More and more people are using treadmills and the number of accidents has increased as well. Although only a small percentage of the injuries are serious, about 30 deaths related to treadmill use were reported between 2003 and 2011.
Understandably, the details surrounding Dave Goldberg’s death have not been released to the public, but it is believed that he slipped while using a treadmill and hit his head when he fell. Falls off treadmills that result in serious injury are rare, but they have the potential to cause significant injury and even death. More common injuries associated with treadmill use are less serious overuse injuries, such as strains and sprains.
Children are at particular risk of being injured by treadmills. A motor propels the belt on treadmills and children can get their extremities caught in the moving belt or suffer burns if they accidently turn a treadmill on or one is left running while unattended. Of the 19,000 ER visits associated with treadmills in 2009, nearly a third were for children under age 9.
So how do you stay safe while using a treadmill? The number one rule is to limit distractions. Using a phone or watching TV puts you at a much higher risk of accidently misplacing a foot and falling. (Trying to write an email while I walked on a treadmill is what resulted in my own fall. Luckily, only my pride was injured, but I have learned my lesson.)
Treadmills have also risen in complexity and all the buttons and options can be distracting, especially if you are unfamiliar with the specific equipment. Make sure you understand how to use the treadmill prior to starting the belt. If you have balance issues or are elderly, you should also check with a doctor prior to using a treadmill. And lastly, start by walking slowly and gradually increase the pace of the treadmill so that you aren’t caught unaware by how quickly the belt is moving.
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