How To Use A Treadmill For Injury Recovery

How To Use A Treadmill For Injury Recovery

​Let’s be real here: injuries suck, regardless of your activity level and physical ability. If you’re someone that is active on a regular basis, or even a semi-competitive athlete in 5k’s, marathons, or just a recreational basketball league on the weekends, it’s even worse.

​Lower body injuries can often be the most frustrating, as they limit your ability to even move in the first place. Recently separated shoulder? Hey, you can probably still walk and run, no problem.

​Sprained wrist? Same thing. But if you’re recovering from a fracture, break, strain, or muscle tear in your legs and feet, things are a little more complicated.

Treadmills provide a controlled setting for rehabbing from lower body injuries, which is a big reason as to why they are so popular for physical therapy and general cardio when recovering.

​This quick guide will go over the basics of using a treadmill for injury recovery, along with some sample workout plans you can use to make measurable strides in getting back to your former self.

​Checklist Before Starting

​Before jumping on that platform and getting after it, there are a few things you need to check before getting started.

range of movements on treadmill

​Full Range Of Movement

​The most important thing to check beforehand is the ability to move your legs and feet without any restrictions fully.

​If you have limited range, it can cause you to alter your stride, which not only diminishes the quality of your workouts, it can lead to other injuries. This is not something to power through.

​No Swelling

​Swelling can be a common side-effect of many injuries, especially in the ankle area.

​Although a little swelling may surface when you first start a recovery routine, you don’t want it present before you even get started. Wait for it to subside fully.

​Almost Pain-Free

​Injuries always involve some level of pain, that’s not a debate. However, while it may seem noble to feel like you’re in some sports drink commercial by pushing through that pain holding you back, that very pain is an indicator that you’re not fully ready.

​I do realize that every situation is different and that there may very well be a pain after your recovery workout, but it shouldn't be noticeable before you get on the treadmill.

​Variables To Keep In Mind

​Every situation is unique. Here are a few factors that will play a role in your recovery.

  • Type of Injury - Calf, ankle, thigh, foot -- all of these areas have different effects on how you can recover, and what you’ll need to focus on. Foot injuries will likely be the most difficult and require the most caution.
  • ​Injury Occurrence - Is this the first time you’ve injured this area, or is it a chronic thing?
  • ​Time Off So Far - How much time have you taken off from your workout routines, or even just daily regular activity?

​Establish Your Baseline

​The primary aspect of your recovery will be establishing what is commonly called a baseline. This sets a threshold during your recovery and creates a reference point so you can constantly check and track your progress.

treadmill baseline

​While it may be tempting just to feel it out, keeping things written down and recorded provides objective data that will always be a better indicator as to how you’re coming along.

​Determining your baseline involves recording the distance you can run at long running speed (brisk, non-sprinting run) without any pain, and also for 48 hours after.

​This will take some trial and error, as sometimes pay may not be present when you first stop, but inflammation can sometimes show up 24-48 hours later.

​To establish your baseline:

  • Begin with a brisk walk for 5 minutes.
  • Increase to comfortable pace you can still actively talk at without being out of breath.
  • Run as long as you are fully comfortable, and then note the distance and time of when pain surfaces.
  • Speed must remain constant.
  • Take this distance, shave 10-20% of it off, and you have your baseline.

​Once you have this distance dialed in, you’re all set to get started.

​Cautious Approach

​If you want to take things slow (nothing at all wrong with that,) a more cautious approach is needed.

​For a scaled back routine with healthy, steady gains over several weeks or months, you’ll need to do 2-3 runs per week, with a full rest day in between each.

​Two runs of all runs need to be at 50-60% of your original baseline, with one run being slight of longer.

​After two weeks, increase each run by 10%, keeping track of your progress in an app or notebook.

​More Aggressive Approach

​If your conditioning is still at a decent level, or if your injury is not as severe, you can take a more aggressive approach to your recovery.

workout approach on treadmill

​Like the cautious approach, you’ll still do 2-3 runs a week with a full rest day in between. The difference is that all runs same, rather than two different levels of distance. All runs should be at 60% of your original baseline.

​After one week, begin increasing each run by 10%, keeping track of your progress, along with any notes of pain, swelling, etc. If you have an incline on your treadmill, increase it by 1-2 degrees after two weeks.


​With both approaches, if pain begins to surface before you’re finished, scale things back by 10% from when it occurred on your current distance, and consult your physician or a physical therapist for an expert assessment.


No matter what your situation is, a treadmill is almost always a highly effective and safe way to make steady, measured progress when coming back from a lower body or leg injury. As your injury fades and you go back to your original form, you can even try HIIT on the treadmill.

​By following these simple steps, you can be sure to do it in a safe, trackable way, and be back to full strength before you know it.

​Good luck!