How to Avoid Cycling Injuries

Cycling is a great form of exercise and is the workout routine of choice for a lot of people. It helps improve cardiovascular fitness as well as muscle flexibility and strength. Also, it is a skill people usually learn in childhood and never forgotten which makes it accessible to most. Lastly, you can set the pace from a leisurely ride to an intense physical workout.

However, like any physical activity, cycling can also cause injuries either from accidents, improper use of the bike and its components or simply from overexertion. In this article, Physiotherapy experts give their top tips on some of the things you might want to consider to maximize your cycling sessions free from injury.

Most Common Cycling Injuries

There are a number of common cycling injuries but with awareness and some slight adjustments, they can be avoided or quickly treated to ensure you’re not off your bike for long periods.

Handlebar Palsy

Handlebar Palsy refers to the numb or tingling feeling in the fingers or hand which occurs when the ulnar nerve becomes irritated. In cycling, this is caused by keeping your grip for extended periods of time. Gripping the handlebar may either keep the nerve stretched or expose it to compression by tightly holding to the bar. While it can be avoided by periodic stopovers to release the hands from gripping the handlebar, in some cases the numbness persists and might require surgical decompression.

Neck Pain

Riding on the drops results in a more angled neck position, which for some can cause discomfort or injury. This lower riding position reduces drag and is the favoured position in many cyclists to maximise speed. However, this position is made worse when the neck is extended upwards, which is pretty important if you want to see where you’re going! Try to avoid long periods in this position and use an ice pack, rest and medication to ease muscle inflammation.

Knee Pain

Cycling Injuries image by NJD Sport Injuries

As a machine, a bike moves by pedaling (top tips here eh?). Therefore, when cycling, the legs and knees are exposed to strain and fatigue. Pain at the front and center of the knee and around the knee cap are among the most common experiences, especially after cycling uphill.

Lower Back Pain

Back pains occur commonly on casual cyclists with insufficient flexibility or core strength. Even professional cyclists are at risk during long tours with winding roads. In terms of cycling setups, raised seat or poorly placed handlebars also increase strain to the lower back and might even cause pain to the buttocks or legs. Cyclists who are spending more than 3 or 4 hours in the saddle each ride should consider a professional bike fit to ensure their riding position is not going to give them any lower back pain.

Physiotherapists Tips on How to Avoid Cycling Injuries

Prevention remains better than cure in avoiding cycling-related injuries. Half of the process relies on getting a comfortable bike setup. Of course, all these specifications are dependent on your expected cycling routine. If you expect to run on paved roads or on dirt tracks, or if you are looking at an uphill or a downhill route, you will also have to adjust your setup accordingly.

Setting Up the Handlebars

Keeping the handlebar within an arm’s reach is not enough to keep you running for long. Make sure to find the right position with respect to your own physical attributes. If the handlebars are too high, chances are you also transfer more weight to your seat. Observe tall cyclists usually have lower handlebars to reduce the pressure they exert on the seat. On the other hand, shorter cyclists with lower handlebars are exposed to risks of back pains due to over flexing to reach the handlebars.

Finding the Right Seat Position

Conversely, the seat position also has to be considered. Ideally, the seat should not be tilting forward or backward. If the seat tilts forward, you place additional strain on the arms. If it tilts backward, you will be forced into a poor position, causing back pains. Also, having a comfortable seat adjusted to a height that works for you will also help you avoid lower back pain and knee pains.

On the other hand, posture and physical habits will keep you safe for most of your workout sessions. Here are some physio tips you can include in your routine:

Improve Your Core Muscles

Your ability to maintain the aerodynamically-efficient position while cycling heavily depends on the strength of your core muscles. Aside from regular cycling with increasing intensity, you can further improve your core by undergoing supplemental fitness activities such as clinical pilates sessions. Some physiotherapy clinics now offer clinical pilates with an individualistic and goal-oriented approach.

Utilise All Your Leg Muscles

A lot of cycling-related injuries can be avoided with the proper form. In pedaling, the quadriceps and hamstring are the upper leg muscles working together with the soleus and gastrocnemius in the calf. A simple test for checking if you’re pedaling right is when you feel that both legs contribute equally to the activity. Aside from keeping your legs, knees, and ankles safe, proper pedal practice will also increase your cycling efficiency.

Cycle at Varying Cadences

Cadence refers to the rate at which you pedal, often described in pedal revolutions per minute. Interestingly, this particular factor has been a topic of interest among sports scientists and medical professionals and some studies have been done on this. It is important for you to identify the pace at which you are most comfortable riding. According to experts, forcing oneself to pedal faster does not necessarily improve results. A recommended exercise for improving one’s pacing is by doing spin-ups – starting in a lighter gear then go pedaling as fast as you can and maintaining it for half a minute. This improves your ability to switch between slow and fast cadences.

Make sure to prepare both man and machine in order to get the most out of cycling. It is a fun activity with a lot of health benefits, aside from having to enjoy the scenery as you go. While it still carries risk, there are a lot of things you can do to stay safe and fit as much as possible.

Also, it is important to note that in cycling, or any physical activity for that matter, there is no universal solution applicable to all. If you experience pain after cycling, either recurring or persisting, make sure to check out with your physiotherapist to identify personalized solutions in alleviating and curing your problems.