Whether you’re in the saddle to commute, training to compete, or just for fun, cycling is an excellent exercise as well as a fantastic way to get around.
Being an Osteopath as well as an amateur cyclist myself, I know that cycling injuries do occur and often re-occur. In my experience, injuries are usually caused by overuse or poor riding form. The resulting pain and physical limitations can be particularly debilitating for cyclists, impeding performance or preventing you from continue to cycle altogether. Luckily, most injuries can be resolved fairly quickly with some simple bike set-up tweaks, and some manual therapy such as Osteopathy for persistent pain.
1. LOWER BACK PAIN
This is largely caused by the sustained flexed forward position in cycling which can put excessive pressure through the joints and discs of your low back.
- Raise your handlebars to reduce the amount of flexion going through your lower back.
- Daily stretches and exercises to improve hip and lumbar flexibility - an Osteopath or other manual therapist can advise on the best stretches for you.
2. NECK PAIN AND HEADACHES
Neck pain and headaches can also be due to a flexed forward cycling posture. This in turn causes your neck to over-extend, especially when you are looking up and around. Long periods of neck extension can lead to muscle tightness, joint pain, and associated headaches.
- Raise your handlebars to decrease the extension curve in your neck.
- Alter your cycling position so you are sitting in a more upright position for short periods.
- Do regular neck flexion and side-bending stretches to ease neck and shoulder tension – consult an Osteopath or other manual therapist on the best stretches for you.
3. KNEE PAIN
Knee pain is commonly caused by your saddle being too low, or your cleats not in an optimal position. A saddle that is too low means that your knee and leg never straighten out fully. This leads to shortened hamstrings, sustained tension on the knee cap, and weakening of the muscle controlling the last 10 degrees of knee extension (known as the vastus medialis). All of these can lead to knee problems such as patella mal-tracking, patellar tendonitis, and overuse injuries.
Many road cyclists use cleats to connect their shoes to the pedals. Whilst cleats improve performance, they can also result in persistent knee pain if they are not optimally positioned.
- Raise your saddle.
- Optimise cleat position.
- Cycle in a lower gear to decrease the amount of stress through your knee on each pedal stroke.
- Consider getting a professional bike-fit done.
4. HAND AND WRIST PAIN
Leaning forwards during cycling puts a lot of tension through forearms and hands, which can be exacerbated by gripping the handlebars too tightly and not varying your hands position. This can lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI) with pain and tightness in the wrists, forearms and elbows.
Some cyclists also experience tingling and numbness into their hands and fingers, most commonly on the pinkie and ring fingers. This is caused by compression of the ulnar or median nerves due to the sustained wrist and hand position on the handlebars. It can be made worse from the bike vibration if you are cycling on rough terrain.
- Change your hand position on the handlebars regularly.
- Ensure that your wrists are straight and not over-extended.
5. MUSCLE STRAINS AND TEARS
Hamstrings and calves are the most common muscle injuries amongst cyclists. This is because these muscle groups get particularly tight, making them more vulnerable to tears and tendon injuries.
- Warm up before a ride, and stretch afterwards to keep your muscles healthy and flexible. Using a foam roller after a ride for myofascial release can help with this too.
- Check saddle height. A saddle that is too high can put a strain on the hamstring tendons.
- Check cleat position as cleats too far forward may put a strain through the achilles tendon.
- Pace your training program. Build up gradually to longer-distance cycling.
WHEN SHOULD YOU SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP?
If you are experiencing the pain only when you are riding, then hopefully the above tips can help alleviate the issues. However, if the pain persists even when you are off the bike, you may need to get professional help.
An Osteopath will be able to provide relief by releasing restrictions, improving flexibility, and releasing muscle tensions. Osteopathy can also give you the best chance of staying pain-free by maintaining joint health, mobility, and muscle flexibility, as well as provide you with an individualised exercise advice.
You may also want to consider getting a professional bike fitting done. This will ensure that no particular part of your body is under excessive strain, which should also help to improve performance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sebastien Bodet is a qualified Osteopath from France with a MSc in Osteopathy from Ecole d’Osteopathie Paris. He is also a certified Personal Trainer and Swimming Coach.
Sebastien is a former Olympic swimmer who represented France in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. He was a member of the University of Michigan Elite swimming team, and to this day remains an Olympic Sports Ambassador in France.
Sebastien's area of specialty is sports injuries, rehabilitation, and pain management. As a former professional athlete, he understands what it takes to maintain and rehabilitate the body for a high level of sporting performance. He takes a holistic approach to injury treatment, not limiting the treatment plan to only the pain area, but accounting for the entire body structure and lifestyle habits to create a fully customised treatment plan.
Sebastien's priority with every patient is to ensure safety and efficacy of their treatment plan. He is passionate about restoring body fitness and function to its optimum so that all of his patients can live life to the fullest potential.