I can imagine everyone reading this post knows that cycling is one of the fastest growing sports or activities in the UK. Just the increasing popularity and presence of this blog and forums or groups like it are proof that there’s more and more interest out there from those involved with the sport or looking to get involved.
It’s not hard to see why it’s growing like it is, cycling is a great form of cardiovascular exercise providing a huge variety of health benefits. Regular and consistent bouts of cardiovascular exercise have been associated with decreased risks of a wide variety of diseases and conditions including but not limited to: high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, several cancers, and depression.
Unfortunately, as with any form of exercise, cycling carries with it a risk of injury. Mind you, the benefits in my opinion far outweigh the risks by a long shot. Today I wanted to speak about some common causes of injuries I see as a Physiotherapist among cyclists and how to help you prevent and manage these to make sure you spend as much time in the saddle as possible.
Three of the most common cycling related injuries that tend to come through our door are lower back pain, neck pain, and anterior knee pain (pain at the front of the knee). These are more often than not related to overuse and training rather than trauma, and are usually brought about by either poor training habits, poor bike fit, or a combination of the two.
Now training habits can be quite a large umbrella, covering everything from how you train, where you train, and all the bits in between. First thing you need to ask yourself though is what is it you’re training for or why are you training? Are you a social rider, training for an event, or working on personal fitness goals? Like anything, no matter if you are the fittest person in the world, you have to introduce yourself to new forms of exercise gradually.
Your body and all the associated joints, muscles, and tissues have to get use to these new positions, demands, and challenge, they will adapt but it takes time. So make sure to take your time and slowly build your time on the bike – you want it to be as enjoyable as an experience as possible. The larger the gap between your current fitness and goals/ expectations, the longer the time you should give yourself to train.
This principle also applies to varying terrain; don’t underestimate the challenges involved with hills, wet weather, or heat. Just because you can comfortably cycle 200 miles on the flats each week, doesn’t mean I would assume you can achieve the same through the mountains.
Training habits also cover what you do outside of cycling. Rest (as much as we don’t want to believe it) is necessary to give the body time to recover and adapt. It is all the more important after challenging sessions or events. Most of the tissues in your body respond to the stressors of an event and will undergo a process of adaptation given the right stimulus, but also the right amount of time.
Now this doesn’t mean taking this as an excuse to sit on the sofa all day on your rest days, but you should keep moving and maybe try a light form of cross training (e.g. swimming, hiking, or Pilates). Off days can be a great time to address mobility and functional issues, maybe work on that tight hamstring or stiff low back to improve your comfort on the bike.
The fit of your bike can also play a big part on how comfortable you feel cycling. Sure some discomfort is normal with any new form of exercise, but pain that’s persistent or worsens is not. You shouldn’t get off the bike grabbing a hold of your back or neck hoping it will get better with time. Lots of variables about your set up can influence both your mobility demands while on the bike and how your body deals with the forces you apply to the pedals.
Certain set ups may force you into too much low back flexion that may bother you on climbs, while others may force your neck into too much extension which can make seeing over the bars agony. My biggest advice would be to take the advice from various forums with a grain of salt as they haven’t seen you on your bike and often don’t have the same background in biomechanics.
Take the time and go see your local shop or qualified healthcare professional for some bike fitting and exercise advice to ensure your bike fits you and you fit your bike!
Hopefully this helps give you a bit of insight into some common causes of cycling injuries and helps you reaffirm that cycling shouldn’t be a pain in your neck.
Brendon is a physiotherapist at Agile Therapy and qualified from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada with an MSc in Physiotherapy in 2013.
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