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Cycling: A Guide to Pain Prevention

Cycling is a terrific way to get some exercise while enjoying the sights and sounds of Ottawa! This is the time of year when many of us take our bikes out of the garage, dust off the rust, and start biking on the beautiful scenic trails of Ottawa.  However, just like your bicycle, you may need to dust off the rust on your body to prevent injuries. Like many forms of physical activity, it is not unusual for a cyclist to experience some form of physical pain while biking or sustain an injury as they start the activity again or increase the amount of exercise.  This blog will provide information about the common types of pain, injuries, prevention, and treatment options.

Common Forms of Cycling Injuries

Knee Pain:

Knee pain is one of the most common injuries among cyclists. It can be caused by overuse, improper bike fit, or muscle imbalances. Improper bike fit is the dominant and easily corrected factor in knee pain. Pain at the kneecap is caused by an excessively low saddle putting unnecessary pressure on the patella. Pain behind the knee is frequently caused by a saddle that is too high. Lateral and medial knee pain can be caused by poor cleats and petals. Please visit your nearest bike shop to have a specialist assist you in getting your bike properly fitted to you.

Lower Back Pain:

Lower back pain is another common injury among cyclists due to hours spent bent over the handlebars. Tense lower back muscles contribute to changes in posture and lead to overworking the piriformis muscle. Irritation of this muscle can cause hip discomfort or pain in the lower leg. If you ride aggressively and have a long stem/top tube and low handlebars, you might want to lower the handlebars to relieve some pressure. Also, ensure you are maintaining proper posture during your ride with hips hinged forward instead of hunching in your lower back.

Neck Pain:

In an ideal scenario, approximately 60% of your body weight is positioned and loaded at the back of your bike and just 40% at the front. If the force or weight on the handlebars becomes excessive, the arms and wrists will take increased pressure. The first thing to assess is a proper reach to your handlebars. You want to ensure your reach is not too long and your handlebars are not too low.  Neck pain can occur if the handlebars are too low, as the rider will have to hyperextend their neck to look ahead. Wrist pain might arise when your handlebar position forces your wrist to bend at an improper angle. Shifting the bars upwards will significantly reduce the reach and improve wrist angle.

Hand Numbness:

Hand numbness is a common concern among cyclists and is often caused by prolonged extension of the wrist and pressure on the ulnar nerve in the hand. Cycling mitts and gloves with padded sections can help minimize nerve compression and therefore reduce numbness. Ensuring proper handlebar fit and reducing weight on the hands as mentioned above will also reduce compression on the hands.

Foot Pain: 

Foot Injuries are common in many activities that involve the lower extremity. The most common in cycling include Achilles Tendonitis, Shin Splints, and Plantar fasciitis. These are caused by muscle imbalance, overuse, improper shoes, and improper bike fit impacting muscle function. Ensure you are using the proper muscles for your ride and not getting compensating muscle activation. Additionally, ensure you have the proper equipment for your needs. 

How to Prevent Cycling Injuries

  1. The most important strategy to avoid cycling injuries is to have a professional fit for your bike. This allows for proper muscle function and body mechanics to relieve excessive pressure on your hands, low back, and neck region while promoting proper joint alignment. 
  2. Proper Footwear: Use of properly fitting cycling shoes and insoles/orthotics if required. 
  3. Warm-up and cool down: Activating the large muscle groups that will be used during the ride will ensure proper muscle function. A combination of stretching and quick mobility exercises after your ride will help prevent muscle soreness, tightness, and pain.
  4. Listen to your body. When you are in pain, take it slow and see your health professional. 

To promote a safe and enjoyable cycling season cyclists need to seek professional care for any injuries to prevent them from worsening. If pain or injury is affecting your ability to engage in or enjoy cycling, call us to book an assessment. You can book an appointment with our Physiotherapists or Chiropractors at either our CURAVITA Glebe Clinic at 613-237-9000 or at our CURAVITA Byward Clinic at 613-860-8600.