Common Injuries Cyclists Face and How to Treat Them
Five pain-free ways seasonal and competitor cyclists can rebound from injury.
Cycling is becoming more popular every day. In fact, according to Statista, nearly 49 million Americans biked weekly in 2019 — that’s 10 million more riders then in 2006. Experts who track the popularity of cycling estimate that even more people will try the sport. Not only is cycling a low-carbon footprint form of transportation, but it is a great recreational form of exercise that can also be a competitive sport. Whether you are a recreational cyclist or a seasoned competitor, however, it’s important to note the type of injuries you may face — as well as ways to successfully treat (and possibly avoid) them. Here are the top injuries you may face from cycling, and my suggested strategies to heal and rebound with vigor.
Keep it Knee Deep
Unlike other sports that rely solely on your body, cycling is unique because the equipment you use can significantly impact performance and efficiency. Poor bike fit may trigger pain and injuries, for example. According to research published in the journal Sports Medicine, improper saddle (seat) height resulted in knee injuries and poor cycle performance. To find the right height for you, remember to keep it knee deep. So, when the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke and the ball of your foot is on the pedal, your knee should have a slight bend in it. This, in turn, will create the proper alignment of your spine, as it prevents rotation during pedaling motion.
Banish Low Back Pain
Low back pain (LBP) may be the most common complaint from both recreational and competitive cyclists. While there is no one-size-fits all approach to training, research shows that the prolonged flexed posture of cyclists often creates weakness and imbalance of the spinal and core muscles — leading to LBP. To counter this, I work with clients to bolster core strength and increase flexibility. Individualized testing and training are always best, but in general, here are some general exercises to help you recover:
- Hip flexor stretches, otherwise known as runner lunges
- Cobra Pose. Do Cobra poses to strengthen lumbar muscles. Lie on your belly, neck neutral, chin on the mat, elbows bent, hands flat on the mat, fingers together and just under shoulders, elbows hug in. Inhale, lift your chest up (but do not rise higher than your belly button), while keeping your elbows in by your ribs, shoulders down and away from your ears, and your legs straight, together, with heels together. Engage your core as you exhale. Hold for two breaths, then come down, hands to your side, turn your head to the left. Repeat four times, switching the direction of your head to alleviate neck tension.
- Plank. Also called top of a push up, planks strengthen your core muscles. To do them successfully, place wrists underneath shoulders. Keep your neck neutral, gaze down and out about twelve inches. Engage your core and keep your hips low, so your body is parallel to the floor. Toes are tucked and heels push back, as if into an invisible wall. As you inhale, fill your lungs fully, as you exhale, pull your abdominals in and imagine your ribs zippering close together. Build up to a one-minute hold.
- Side Plank. This will strengthen core and oblique muscles to protect posture and spine. Lay on your side with your knees bent and prop your upper body up on your elbow. Raise your hips off the floor and hold for six seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat three to five times, then switch to your other side and repeat.
Load management is one of the best ways to prevent injuries — especially knee and spine-related ones. Load management is an offshoot of modern sports science research that can help predict when athletes are most vulnerable to injury and in need of protection. It is also a reason why certain professional athletes are given regular time off throughout their season when healthy, while others are asked to play every contest, or push harder. Sports medicine professionals, like those on my team at Canyon Ranch, can look at your fitness program and assess previous injuries that may predict future ones, to determine strategies for time off to heal.
With that said, we should not forget about other methods to reduce the risk of injury, such as week-to-week changes, or factors, such as sleep, recovery, and nutrition — which need to be utilized as part of a comprehensive injury management program.
The bottom line is that every cyclist will require a tailored program to assess every aspect to have a better outcome. Because what I may recommend for one cyclist, may not be suggested for another. I once worked with a cyclist who had lumbar spine strain. He was having difficulty riding on his bike. After assessment this plan was created:
- Modified mileage for the next 2 - 4 weeks, decreasing the load for about 25%.
- Modified the seat height and depth to accommodate for better posture.
- Provided individualized mobility exercises for his hips and core exercises for strengthening.
- Within four weeks, he was back to cycling at previous levels. And with the right guidance from a sports medicine provider, I’m confident you too would be back on the bike better than ever.