How To Avoid Knee, Back and Shoulder Pain For Cyclists

Top 3 Cycling injuries

© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

The 3 most common cycling injuries and how to avoid them.



Cyclists don’t experience anywhere near as many injuries as runners. Mainly because it is a low impact activity. But that doesn’t mean cyclists are completely immune to injuries, you still have to maintain some strength and flexibility, and train within your body’s capacity to cope.

There are two main types of cycling injury – trauma and overuse.

Trauma is usually the result of a crash, so the obvious remedy to these types of injuries is to stay upright!

This article is going to focus on Overuse Injuries, which, as the name suggests, are caused by doing more km’s on your bike, and creating more stress on your body, than it can cope with.

We have treated thousands of cyclists in our physio clinic over the years and there are three injuries which crop up most often:

  • Knee pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Neck/shoulder pain

 

Knee Pain

Most cycling related knee pain occurs in the patellofemoral joint, which is where the knee cap (patella) meets the thigh bone (femur).

Cyclist knee injury

When you are riding, and your knee bends and straightens, the knee cap moves up and down in a groove on the front of the thigh bone.  If there is too much load on this joint, it irritates the bone surfaces, which then become painful.

 

What causes too much load on the patellafemoral joint??

1. Training Load: If you do too much training without adequate rest and recovery time, it can put your whole body under too much strain and cause a range of overuse injuries to occur. Following a training plan which is suited to your current level of fitness will help to minimise the risk of this occurring

2. Tight Quad Muscles: You use your quad muscles a lot when you ride your bike. This causes them to get stiff and tight, which in turn adds more stress to the patellafemoral joint.  Foam rolling is one of the best ways to relieve some of this muscle tension. This VIDEO will show you how to foam roll your quads properly.

 

 

3. Big Gear Training: Riding in your big gears with a low cadence helps to develop strong legs, but it also significantly increases the load on your knees. This ARTICLE on cadence explains more.  If you have any niggles in your knees, and you are worried you might stir things up, then you should do almost all of your cycling in a gear which allows you to comfortably “spin” at around 90RPM.

4. Poor Bike Fit: A bike that has not been set up correctly can result in knee pain. In particular, the saddle position (height and/or fore-aft) and the cleat set up have a big influence of what happens to your knee. This video explains cleat set up in more detail.

 

 

Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is a very common complaint amongst cyclists. It is often due to other aspects of life, like sitting all day at work, and is then exacerbated when you ride.

The type of saddle you ride, and how it is positioned, can have a huge influence on your lower back.

The correct saddle choice is very difficult. Everyone’s pelvis size and shape is different which can make choosing the ideal saddle a real source of frustration.Bike saddles

Flat saddles can result in a cyclist sitting in a kyphotic, or rounded back, posture (with posterior pelvic tilt). This puts more stress on your lower back and may be a trigger for lower back pain.

Saddles with a sway back (rise at the back) can be very beneficial in reducing back pain if they are set up correctly. They help you to maintain a “neutral” lumbar spine, which means maintaining the natural curve of your lower back. This can significantly reduce the stress on your lower back as you ride.

Low back pain can also be associated with the amount of “drop” on the bike.

“Drop” refers to the difference between the height of your saddle and bars. If you have a big drop, and you are reaching too far, or too low to your bars, it will increase the tension in your lower back.

The flexibility of your lower back and hamstrings need to be considered during a bikefit to make sure you are riding with a drop that suits your specific level of flexibility.


Neck and Shoulder Pain

Neck and shoulder pain is also very common in cyclists.

Poor bike fit at the front end is one of the most likely causes, specifically being too stretched out or too low.

We often see cyclists who have lowered their stem all the way down because their mates say it is a good idea, or they are looking to emulate the pros.

If the front of the bike is too low, you have to accommodate with more neck extension to be able to look ahead on the road. This can result in neck pain.

There are different ways to optimise your bike fit and get the ideal reach on your bike which will minimise or alleviate neck and/or shoulder pain.

An easy exercise to improve your posture and to improve the mobility of your upper back is to lie on a foam roller for a few minutes every evening.

This video will show you how.

 

Overuse Cycling injuries are avoidable.

If you take a few simple precautions, like making sure your bike is set up correctly, and implementing some easy daily stretching/rolling routines, then you should be able to ride injury-free for the rest of your days.

Don’t wait until you are broken.

Prevention is much better than cure, so get started with some foam rolling tonight!

If you are struggling with a cycling injury, book an appointment today with one of our sports physio’s.

If you feel your cycling performance isn’t improving or you are uncomfortable in your saddle, we recommend you book in for a bike fit.  Our qualified specialists will assess your current body strengths and weaknesses and establish a position which enables you to train for a long time and frequently whilst minimising your potential for injury.

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