The death of David Goldberg on a treadmill at a resort in Mexico was tragic, untimely and a shock to those who knew him.
It was also a very rare type of death.
There were just 30 reported deaths related to use of treadmills from 2003 to 2012, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an average of about three a year, far fewer than the number of people who were struck by lightning and died.
“This is very uncommon,” said Charles Lawrence, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Interfaith Medical Center in Brooklyn. “This is a horrible accident, not an epidemic of people falling on treadmills.”
Injuries, however, are far more common. In 2014, there were 24,400 injuries associated with treadmills in emergency departments across the country, said the commission, a federal agency based in Bethesda, Md. In all, 62,700 injuries were reported for all exercise equipment — a category that includes swimming pools, weights, golf clubs and trampolines. Treadmills caused the single largest number of injuries.
Doctors of emergency and sports medicine said injuries from falls on machines are rare and the vast majority of injuries from sports equipment are related to overuse — for example, an injured tendon from a long run on a treadmill.
Joseph E. Herrera, director of sports medicine in the department of rehabilitation medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, said he has seen about seven patients with treadmill injuries over the past decade, including a man in his 40s who had never used one before and was flung off when he pushed buttons making it go too fast. Several of the other patients were older, he said.
“It’s a very rare occurrence,” he said. “But if it does happen, it can have severe consequences.”
Of all the workout machines, the treadmill is the riskiest, he said, because it has a motor that propels it, unlike an elliptical machine or stationary bicycle. Some strategies to avoid injury include learning about the equipment first and getting a checkup before starting to use it, as sudden exercise by a person in poor condition can trigger other health problems.
Exercise can cause heart problems to surface, for example, and it is possible that something like that caused Goldberg to fall. Robert Shesser, the chair of the department of emergency medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said he occasionally sees cases of people who die suddenly while exercising. The causes vary. Sometimes it is a genetic abnormality of the heart that no one knew about and sometimes it is chronic coronary disease, aggravated by poor diet and little exercise.
Heart problems are responsible for about 80 percent of sudden deaths — people who collapse and cannot be resuscitated, Shesser said. An autopsy would probably be able to pinpoint the cause of death to determine whether some medical event caused the fall, such as a heart attack or a blood clot in the brain or lungs.
Shesser said the two groups of Americans most vulnerable to falls are older people and people who have had too much to drink.
Injuries have not inhibited Americans from going to gyms. According to an estimate by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, a trade association for the health club industry, more than 63 million Americans used a health club in 2014. About 54 million Americans have health club memberships, the association said.