Help! Headphones Shocked My Ears on the Treadmill!

Usually I run with my iPod—but when it died last week during my six-mile run, I plugged my new headphones into the treadmill’s built-in television instead.

Ouch! About two minutes after I tuned in Jeopardy!, I felt an electric snap in my left ear. I yanked the headphones off to see if there were any exposed wires or obvious problems. Nothing.

I cautiously hopped back on. A few minutes later I got a zap in my right ear. Help! I switched machines and it happened again. I dumped the torture device in the beverage holder and continued my run in frustrated silence.

At this point I felt like a lab rat in some sick social experiment.

I later dug out the headphone packaging to see if there were warnings about exposure to sweat or use with specific electronics. But the only precautions were about high volume (“may affect your hearing”) and traffic safety (“do not use headphones while driving or cycling”).

I googled and found I wasn’t alone. After reading the message boards of tech blogs CNET
and Head-Fi, I got to thinking that the problem might be static buildup from the treadmill traveling up the headphone wires.

I tried to confirm that with Sony (since this happened with the new h.ear Sports Headphones, which wrap around the ears). Several emails we sent to Sony’s corporate communications department went unanswered, but we did manage to reach a technical support agent on the phone who said he’d never heard of the headphones causing electric shocks; he speculated that the treadmill would’ve been to blame for the electric charge.

At $15 I guess I got what I paid for. But really the treadmill is challenging enough; I don’t need scary shocks to discourage me even further. Let me know if this has happened to anyone else out there.

Last Updated: February 12, 2008
Filed Under: Running
Also Tagged: , , , , ,

Comments (24)

The following content represents the opinions of users. It is not editorially reviewed for medical or factual accuracy. It does not constitute medical advice. See your doctor for medical advice.
  • Sheridan Edward

    A couple of days ago I switched from using headphones to earphones and I got exactly the same problem, except that the shocks happened every couple of seconds.

    I tried it with different, more expensive earphones and the shocks still happened on one machine, but not on another, and when they did they were less frequent.

    It may well be something to do with the design, as the problems I had were with sports-style phones that clip round the ear.

    Until you find an answer, using on-ear as opposed to in-ear phones may well solve the problem.

  • “… a lab rat in some sick social experiment…” Man, can’t you just picture a giant scientist looking down at you through a one-way mirror, going “Hm, the subject is confused…increase the voltage…” (C: LOL well, it seems funny in my head…


  • The problem isn’t sony’s. You’re right, it’s static build up and the only thing you can do is stop using an ipod.

  • Weird!! Did you trying “grounding out” the electricity by holding or touching something metal (like, say, the heart rate sensors on the bar)?

  • dotdotdot

    I actually stopped running on the treadmill for this reason. Those little shocks hurt like crazy. It’s like electroshock therapy.

    I don’t have any solutions, but my hunch is that if I get some old school headphones (vs. in-your-earhole models) I’ll have better luck. Either that or I’m going to run a ground wire from my head to a metal rod that I drill into the ground.

  • Joshua

    I used to run on a treadmill, and when my father’s heart-rate chest strap transmitter was anywhere near the room I would get shocked whenever I touched metal on the treadmill. Very discomforting, I ended up quiting the treadmill for good, and hit the streets.

  • Monice

    You are not alone. The same happened to me. I switched to headphones when running on the treadmill.

  • nick

    well all that friction with ur exercise clothes and ur body (not to mention with the clothes themselves) causes charge to build up and seeing as theres a lot of metal between ur body and those earpieces its bound to build up thru the metal. If the gap between ur ear canal and the metal on the earphones is 1-2mm, that requires around 3000-6000 Voltz of potential before electric breakdown occurs thru the air(spark). It could be upwards of one amp (a LOT of charge per second) but luckily its only for a few milliseconds otherwise ud be in hospital :P

  • rak

    does any one have a mat under there treadmill & still experience the shock? I was thinking of getting a rubber mat thinking this might help…

  • Dave

    I totally agree. It happens to me at the beginning of my workout. I don’t put them on until I build up a sweat otherwise I get a very painful shock. The pain from my last one lasted almost a week!

  • Rob

    It’s just static electricity and all you have to do to prevent those shocks is to ground yourself. There are many ways to do this, but one of the easiest is what I set up for my wife’s treadmill. Just tape one end of a wire to the heart monitor grips (or any metal on the treadmill) and attach the other end to a small metal clip. When you go to use the treadmill, just attach the clip to the inside of your shorts waistband, or wherever you prefer that will stay in constant contact with your bare skin.

    If you don’t have a small metal clip around the house, Radio Shack sells small alligator clips that work and should have a connection point for the wire. As long as the clip touches somewhere on your skin, and goes to a treadmill metal, you won’t build up a charge and get a shock.

  • Bree

    This happened to me but I wasnt on a treadmill! I’m at my desk working and listening to music. Theres nothing wrong with the wires or the computer its plugged up to. I’ve had a continious headache and dizzy spells every since…was this harmful to me?

  • gideon

    Plain old “on the ear” headphones which have that little ring of foam-rubber around the ear-part provide enough insulation to prevent the problem of static electric shock. The headphones I’m referring to are the same ones the airlines sell or hand out but you can also buy them at most electronics stores. Static shock happens to be a winter phenomenon (low humidity), so you shouldn’t have a problem with in-ear phones in the summer.

  • Thambo

    Thanks Rob,

    I’m no scientist, but I thought of the same theory. At first I was just hanging onto the metal bars of the machine with my hands, but that really impedes running movement and reduces the efficiency of the run. Since then I’ve been using a very stupid-looking DIY device, by linking many paper clips to form a chain and attaching the chain to my wrist and the handlebar. Seems to work, but it makes me look like an idiot. I reckon your method is less ostentatious.

  • Eric

    Disagree that it was the treadmill… i have the same ear phone and its been happeneing to me for like 3 days now… not often, every once in a while i get a snap shock in my right ear… Only on these earphones… and it doesn’t matter what i use it on, i get shocked once or twice… ipod, psp, computer headphone jack… its the headphones… Has to be, its not just a coincidence.

  • dkdevin

    Wow, we just got those Sony h.ear headphones because our old ones were falling apart. We started getting the shocks (both my wife and I) since the new headphones. Problem is, I love these headphones, they’re cheap, but have decent sound and are comfortable…well, until we get shocked!!! It’s of course the static build up, that makes sense, but I’m blaming the headphone design. The ones that fell apart were Philips in ear with around the ear clip and we’ve never gotten shocked on the treadmill in over a year. Maybe the Sony brand fits too well, enhancing the chance for a static shock. But it looks like they’re going back to the store for a different pair. Unless I try the grounding thing. Thanks for the question and all the answers!

  • Mostafa Berg

    This is caused by the static electricity built up in the treadmill !

    Q:Why do i randomly get electric shocked ?
    A:It’s not random at all, it happens when you touch any part of the treadmill without noticing it !=]

    Q:How to overocome it ?
    A:You have two solutions, 1-Ground yourself to the treadmill using a ground bracelet , 2-Use speakers that do not contain any metal part in the earpiece or just make sure yuor ipod doesn’t toudh any part of the treadmill “Strap it to you hand or put it in your pocket”

    Follow the steps and you’ll be safe :D

    Happy sprinting :D

  • jenners

    This just happened to me yesterday at the gym and it freaked me out! The weird thing was there had been leaking from the ceiling due to a storm and I thought possibly it had a connection to that. I was shocked once in the right then once in the left ear. My concern is that later I had shooting pains down the back of my neck but it’s probably just bad posture or stress. I often have back problems. Looking at everyone else’s experience I’m convinced it was static electricity generated. Thank god this happened to other people though. I thought i was losin’ it!

  • flarkin

    spray static guard on the treadmill belt…

  • Andree

    I had this happen to me on numerous occasion and I just discovered the reason.

    I have tried several different earphones and after buying new indoor shoes I didnt have this problem for months. But the other day I used my Nike outdoor running shoes on the treadmill and *ZAP*.. Problem was back again. So static electricity is building up and indoor shoes should stop you from getting blasted to the past.

  • Kyle

    This happened to me also couldn’t understand it at the start. Changed shoes, mp3 player and earphones. I found that when I held the ipod I got no shock I checked the grounds on the treadmill and found them all fine.
    Conclusion: the shock was caused by friction between the belt and my trainers.
    Solution: To clean the belt with an anti static cleaner, I read you make make it your self by mixing two tablespoons of liquid fabric softener with a cup of water and spraying the belt.
    This worked for me hopefully will work for anyone else who reads it

  • Bob

    This is two years old, but in my case it was the sneakers I wore. For some reason, those specific sneakers caused my finger tips to get shocked when I touched the treadmill. Never happened when I tried different sneakers.

  • Rachel

    So I have had this same problem last winter and it just started again. It’s nice to know it’s not just me and that I’m not crazy.
    But the problem is it shocks me when it’s connected to the treadmill TV and also when it’s connected to my i-pod even when it’s strapped around my arm and not even touching the treadmill. I thought it was my i-pod headphones, so I just bought some SONY ones, but then about 30 seconds later on the treadmill, ZAP!
    So, after reading these posts I guess in the winter time I’ll just have to use goofy 80’s style headphones on the treadmill until I’m not full of electricity.
    Any other suggestions?

  • Steve

    Has anyone ever tried wireless headphones on a treadmill and had the same problem? They sell for $16 – $33 on Amazon for Sony ones which might make the problem go away for good.

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