Cycling injuries can be common but with careful consideration, can be avoidable and prevented

Common Cycling Injuries and How to Prevent Them

For many new cyclists, watching others casually cycle past looks fun and easy. After all, surely the bike does most of the work, right? However, once you get involved in cycling, you need to learn the reality about cycling injuries and most importantly how to prevent them.

The truth about cycling injuries can be that they are more common than you realise but with care and diligence, you can prevent injury or at worst, learn how to treat them to ensure you get back out on your bike as soon as possible.

Like many sports, whenever you take up a new sport there will be a learning curve. With cycling, you may experience some minor injuries as you learn the ropes. This article will help you identify, treat and hopefully avoid, the most common cycling injuries.

The most common cycling injuries include;

  1. Knee Pain
  2. Lower Back Pain
  3. Achilles Tendonitis
  4. Saddle Soreness
  5. Numb Feet

Cycling Injury #1: Knee Pain

Cycling Injuries image by NJD Sport Injuries

Pain and damage to the complex major knee joint is arguably the most common and frequent injury cyclists experience. This makes sense, when you consider how much you rely on your knee joints to keep those pedals moving!

Easing knee pain: It goes without saying that you won’t resolve knee pain by continuing the same activity that is causing the pain. Sports therapists and physicians generally prescribe a rest period to reduce the inflammation causing the pain.

Preventing knee pain: If you fasten your cleats to your pedals, improper setup and position can cause knee pain. You can also try adding cycling insoles to your cleats. Making slight adjustments to your riding position yourself (seat height, saddle position, handlebar position etc) may resolve these problems but you may want to consider getting a professional bike fit.

Cycling Injury #2: Lower Back Pain

GCN Video on Lower Back PainThe second most common cycling injury is also the most common cause of chronic pain today – lower back pain. The most common reason why cyclists complain about lower back pain is: over-training, poor seat position and a weak core.

From a personal perspective, I would also add middle age spread. I have found that the more I decrease this middle tyre, the less lower back pain I seem to have.

Easing low back pain: Adjusting your seat height and angle can help you keep your back from over-extending. Riding with a too-high or poorly angled seat can cause you to over-rely on your back muscles for pedaling power.

Preventing low back pain: The best preventative regimen is to spend time off the cycle building your core (abdominal and pelvic) muscles. The stronger your core is, the less likely you will be to try to use your lower back to get extra power when you need it. As before, you may also want to consider a bike fit.

Cycling Injury #3: Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles Tendonitis Cycling Injury

The phrase “Achilles Tendonitis” is the correct term for an inflamed tendon. The Achilles tendon is the major tendon that connects your foot to your leg. When this tendon becomes inflamed, you will most likely feel the pain in the posterior ankle position.

Easing Achilles Tendonitis: Sports therapists typically recommend the RICE approach (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to ease the pain from this injury. You my also need to temporarily stop cycling to let the inflammation die down.

Preventing Achilles Tendonitis: Taking small but regular doses of ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory medication, can help keep Achilles tendonitis from occurring. It can also be helpful to try a different foot position and to adjust the seat height and position to see if that stops the problem (this is especially relevant when your injury is clearly not from over-use).

Cycling Injury #4: Saddle Soreness

This term is left-over from an era where horses were our main source of reliable transportation. Here, saddle, of course refers to your cycling seat and the soreness refers to the chafing that can give rise to painful rashes, sores and/or blistering of the skin. In broad terms, it can also include tenderness.

Easing saddle soreness: Not surprisingly, saddle soreness often goes hand-in-hand with over-training. Chamois cream or ointment along with rest is the best way to ease saddle soreness. Chamois cream should be applied to cyclists’ delicate personal areas that are likely to chafe.

Preventing saddle soreness: Once your saddle soreness is healed, you can prevent it from recurring in two ways: first, by getting a new pair of bike shorts with proper padding, and second, by ensuring your bike seat height and angle keeps you from moving too much while you ride. It is the side-to-side friction that gives rise to saddle soreness.

Cycling Injury #5: Numb Feet

Buttock Stretch Exercise for Numb Feet

It sure can be scary to have your feet suddenly go numb during a ride. Sometimes, the great outdoors itself is to blame, especially when you are cycling in winter. But equally as often, the culprit is shoes that don’t fit you well.

I have also had cause to get numb feet when a nerve in my neck gets pinched. One or two sessions with a decent physio usually sorts this out.

Easing numb feet: Mid-ride, the best way to ease numb feet is to stop, get off your cycle and take your shoes off. This can give your feet a chance to regain circulation (elevating them also helps). I also do a simple buttock stretch mid-ride (see the above image) and whilst I get a few strange looks, this can be all the difference between a good ride and an awful one.

Preventing numb feet: When you get home, it is time to adjust the straps on your cycling shoes or for a visit to the shoe store. You want a pair of cycling shoes that keeps pressure even from the heel through the ball of the foot and front to the toes. You also want to avoid too-tight or too-narrow shoes that constrict your feet unnecessarily. This is especially important if you often choose uphill terrain. Don’t discount a trip to the Physio either as a couple of sessions with a trained Physiotherapist can help prevent many longterm problems and injuries.

By identifying the most common cycling injuries and what the most common causes are, you can take a proactive approach to quickly easing any pain and preventing these injuries from recurring in the future. It is also so important to rest in between cycling workouts to avoid easily preventable overuse injuries.