How to Prevent the 4 Most Common Cycling Injuries

Distance cyclists are very prone to overuse injury.

With the arrival of summer and the Seattle to Portland ride quickly approaching, we are seeing a spike in cycling injuries in the clinic.

Cycling injuries are usually classic overuse injuries caused by a combination of overtraining in one dimension (on the bike), undertraining in multidimensions (strength training for your side body, posterior chain), and/or a poor bike fit.

Luckily, most cycling injuries fall into one of four main groups and can be prevented with some simple strategies.

1.Patella Femoral Issues (Knee Pain)

Knee pain from cycling is commonly caused by overuse. Our quads (the big muscle on the front of our thighs) attach with a tendon to our knee cap. This gigantic muscle group commonly gets way too tight and shortened, creating an excessive force on our knee cap and causing injury. The easiest way to prevent this common overuse injury is with your foam roller.

Foam roll your quads to prevent and reduce knee pain.

The other common cause of knee pain is a poor bike fit, with your bike seat being too low. Raise your seat slightly to help incorporate your hamstring and your gluteals, balance out your muscle use, and reduce the amount of stress on your quads.

Varying your pedal cadence will also help reduce the stress on your knees.

2. Achilles Tendonitis (Ankle Pain)

People love to ignore their calves, but here’s the deal…

Your calf muscle attaches to the Achilles tendon, which in turn connects to your heel bone. That means your calf muscles provide the power in the push-off phase of your pedal stroke.

Incredibly, the Achilles tendon is subject to a person’s full body weight with each step.

This can increase up to 3-12 times a person’s body weight during a sprint or push off. That’s a crazy amount of pressure! Add this to the fact that as we age, our Achilles tendon weakens, AND it has a very poor blood supply in the first place. This results in poor healing and the formation of microscopic tears, causing the tendon to thicken. This, in turn, creates more restrictions, inflammation, and swelling.

So, what do you do? Stretch it? Wear that nighttime brace your podiatrist gave you for your plantar fasciitis? Ice it? Sadly no, none of those things work – in fact they make it worse. Stretching the Achilles does more harm than good, and ice diminishes the limited blood supply.

Instead, foam roll or lacrosse ball your calf muscles – but not the tendon itself. In fact, go crazy on your calf muscles with your foam roller or lacrosse ball! Really dig into the meat of the muscle. This will make a huge difference.

Tune up your Achilles Tendon with a lacrosse ball.

3. Neck Pain

Neck pain is often from tension and painful triggers in your upper trapezius muscles and levator scapulae, which hold your heavy head up and your neck in extension during cycling. These muscles quickly fatigue and start hurting with long rides.

Bike fit is key to address this issue. Putting your body in a more upright position will allow your neck to be in a more neutral position and lessen the strain. We highly recommend a bike fit expert to do this for you.

Relaxing your hands and loosening your grip on the handlebars will also help. We also advise neck and shoulder stretching and using the lacrosse ball to release your upper traps. If your neck pain becomes a sharp pinch, it’s time to see a doctor for help.

Relieve neck pain using a lacrosse ball.
Two simple stretches for tight necks.

4. Low Back Pain

Long hours in the saddle and aggressive cycling can often lead to low back pain. The low back (lumbar) is in a forward flexed “C” shaped position and loaded for a long period of time. This can lead to excessive wear and tear on the discs and joints of the spine.

The most important thing you can do to prevent low back pain is to have a strong core. Cross training and strength training in the off-season is key. Do this simple exercise daily to decompress your low back and activate your core, helping to prevent low back pain.

Proper bike fit is also key to reducing low back pain from riding.

If you have sharp pain in your back or have pain traveling into your hips or legs, its time to get professional help.

Relieve low back pain using the supine bridge with Dr. Lee.

Stop the Pain Cycle

If you find these stretches and bike adjustments do not put the brakes on your pain, it’s time to come see our team at Head 2 Toe Spine and Sports Therapy for a tune-up. We specialize in getting your body moving properly again and preventing injury.

Call us at (425) 776-2936 or visit our New Patients page to learn more. We will help you get into a whole new gear so you can hit the road again.

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