Since the bicycle was introduced in the 19th century, cycling has become a dominating presence in so many areas of humankind, from a means of transportation, to recreational exercise, to an elite-level sport, to even a childhood milestone. Of course, with any activity that requires thousands of repetitions for a prolonged period, cycling carries the risk of all types of injuries. Unfortunately, acute injuries such as fractures of the clavicle, wrist, or scaphoid, skin abrasions, shoulder dislocations, and even automobile accidents can be common injuries to the cyclist. Most cyclists, however, may face chronic overuse injuries as a challenge to their love of riding. If you have plans to take up cycling as a means for exercise, or are already hitting the road on a regular basis, here are some considerations to help to keep you pedaling without pain.
Ensure the Right Fit
A wrong fit, combined with hundreds of cycles per minute can set even a well-conditioned athlete up for chronic injury. Whether you have made a new purchase, or already own a bicycle, consider bringing your new ride to a professional for proper fitting. Ensuring that the seat is not positioned too high or low, is tilted correctly, that the handle bars are allowing you to balance even weight, and that your feet are aligned properly can avoid miles with excessive stresses on your joints and muscles. Many PT's have additional training in knowing how to get the perfect fit, but you can also gain valuable expertise from a professional at a reputable cycling shop or bike repair store.
Manage Your Miles
Achieving greater distances than ever before can become an incredibly rewarding, even addicting, feeling. Therfore, it can be an even greater feat of the mind to try to avoid overdoing your exercise. With many types of endurance exercises, avoid increasing your mileage by more than 10-12% per week. If you're used to riding 5 miles per day, try to keep your increases by approximately 0.5 miles that week, and increasing accordingly.
Consider Cadence (Rotations per Minute)
Try to aim for slightly higher cadences (rotations per minute) on a bike that is fitted appropriately, while training. Higher cadences with lower resistance can help to decrease load going through the joints of the ankle, hip, and knee, especially since these joints are doing the most work while riding.
Exercise Off of the Bike
Your body is designed to move in all different directions called planes of motion, however, cycling only allows for the working joints to move in one direction. In cycling, your hips, knees, ankles, and even your spine move in a front-to-back direction. To avoid over-training in one direction, perform exercises off of the bike that allow you to strengthen and move your body in all different directions. Try to incorporate resistance training for strength, power, or endurance, core stability training, Pilates, or Yoga. Your physical therapist can assist you in determining what type of additional exercise is safest and most beneficial to your specific goals.
Realize the Difference Between Soreness and Pain
Is the pain you're feeling a sharp, sudden, and unfamiliar? Or are you feeling sore from a challenging work-out? General muscle soreness from an area that you challenged occurring 30 minutes to 24 hours after your workout can be a normal, and often encouraging feeling that you have given your body a challenge. If this pain is sudden, not occurring as general soreness, or is not improving after 1-2 days, it may be time to give your physical therapist a call for an evaluation, unless experiencing an immediate medical emergency, where a visit to the emergency department may be more appropriate.
1. US Bicycling Participation Benchmarking Study Report. Breakaway Research Group.Commissioned by PeopleForBikes. March
2. Loria, K. Pedaling Past Injury. PT in Motion. For Members of the American Physical Therapy Association. July 2018