What You Should Know Before Stepping On A Treadmill

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The sudden death of Dave Goldberg, the husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, is still being investigated. Goldberg, who was 47, died after falling off a treadmill he was using while on vacation at a resort in Mexico. He is said to have died from head injuries, but there are reports he may have had a heart attack while using the exercise machine.

Treadmills are one of the most popular forms of mechanical exercise and they are also the most dangerous. Numbers out this week from the Consumer Product Safety Commission show that in 2014, 24,000 people ended up in the emergency room as a result of using a treadmill.

Janessa Graves is lead author of a study on injuries from home exercise equipment and discusses the risks with Here & Now's Meghna Chakrabarti.

Interview Highlights: Janessa Graves

On how she began studying exercise machine injuries

"I was a postdoc at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Washington [in Seattle], and a colleague of mine had actually fallen off of her treadmill and hit an exercise bike and broke three bones in her foot. And I had known about this data set where we could look at a variety of injuries, or the epidemiology of injuries associated with products such as exercise equipment, and I said, ‘well this might be an interesting topic to study.’"

On her findings

"What we found is that no one has actually looked at these types of injuries across a lifespan... From 2007 to 2011, we found that overall there were about 70,000 injuries associated with mechanical home exercise equipment, and this could be treadmills, elliptical machines, what have you. For treadmills specifically, we found that their were approximately 46,000 injuries over that period of time. Now, these are just limited to home injuries - these don’t count people working out at gyms or at hotels."

"Parents should be aware of the risks of having these machines in their homes, and be cautious about exposing their kids to them."

"Treadmills are very popular, I think they’re very popular at gyms as well. However, although they comprise only a quarter of the market share, they comprise 66 percent of all the injuries."

On the patterns of injuries 

"The injuries really vary based on what age group you’re looking at. For young children - so zero to four years old - we saw a lot of head trauma -  concussions and head injuries. And then upper extremity injuries, most typically friction burns of the hands, or lacerations to the hands. You might imagine how that might happen with small children and treadmills. For adults, we saw a fair number of lower extremity injuries and typically sprains and strains."

On her takeaway from the study

"I think the most important message is that the highest incidents of injury was among zero to 4-year-olds and 5 to 9-year-olds. These are individuals who aren’t necessarily using the equipment for the purpose that it was designed. So I think the most important message is parents should be aware of the risks of having these machines in their homes, and be cautious about exposing their kids to them."


  • Janessa Graves, health services researcher and a professor at the College of Nursing, Washington State University in Spokane, Washington.

This segment aired on May 8, 2015.


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