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Common Injuries in Cycling: Six Ways to Prevent and Treat Them

By: Dr. Brent Wells  September 21, 2020

Learn about common injuries in cycling and how to best prevent and treat them!

The first bicycle was made in the early 1800s. Since then, people have been enjoying riding, but occasionally suffering from injuries. Cycling has proven to be a form of exercise that builds endurance and works the whole body. People love riding bikes, but injuries often keep them from doing what they love.

According to research, the most common injuries happened to cyclists aged 24 and under. Most of the injuries did not involve any other riders but were usually caused by environmental factors, excessive speed, and ignoring traffic conditions.

Cycling does involve repetitive movements, which can exacerbate injuries if they are not treated. Injuries are often related to parts of the bicycle and where they make contact with the body. Studies show that overuse, as well as accidents cause injuries to the knees, ankles, and feet, especially related to making contact with the pedals.

Research also shows that the seat can frequently cause problems. From saddle soreness, chafing, and ischial bursitis, there are several uncomfortable issues related to bicycle seats. The handlebars can cause problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain, and ulnar neuropathy. Of course, accidents can also be the cause of troublesome injuries with lengthy recovery periods.

Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent injuries and to treat them when they do occur. There are times when accidents happen and are difficult to avoid. Otherwise, there are things cyclists can do to protect themselves and their health by taking extra precautions. Some cyclists take time to visit their chiropractor to get sciatica adjustment procedures and treatments for other problematic areas.

Riding at a Safe Speed

One way to avoid injury is to ride a bike at a safe speed. When people ride too fast and cannot stop, they often fall and suffer injuries to soft tissue, bones, and muscles. Some crashes result in head trauma, especially when riders do not wear helmets. So, another way to avoid debilitating injuries is to wear a helmet.

Properly Positioning the Seat

Injuries are also linked to the posture riders choose while on their bicycles. If the seat is uncomfortable, riders will adjust their bodies rather than adjusting the seat. If the handlebars are too close or too far, shoulder injuries can occur. The best way to ride a bicycle is with a straight back and shoulders, but the bumps in the road cause injuries from repetitive stress.

A poorly positioned seat and a lack of cushioned clothing will eventually cause saddle sores, especially if you ride your bike frequently. People who ride for hours can suffer from a rash caused by friction. You can avoid this uncomfortable problem by wearing cycling shorts with padding and by having your bike seat in the correct spot for your height. Some cyclists also use a friction-reducing cream to prevent sores from forming.

Respecting the Feet

When it comes to repetitive use injuries, the knees are highly susceptible. Cyclists don’t have to deal with impact injuries like runners do, but they suffer from injuries related to the position of their feet on the pedals. When the feet are positioned incorrectly, knees can be forced out of alignment and the result is pain that can radiate into the patella and quadriceps, too.

The best way to decrease the chance of knee pain is to position the feet properly on the pedals, especially if your shoes are going to be locked into place on them. When your feet are properly aligned, you will have stronger strokes. Some cyclists get insoles in their shoes to help adjust the position of their feet and knees.

Another common problem with the feet includes numbness caused by improperly fitted shoes. Studies show that properly fitted shoes help prevent injury from too much pressure around the ball of the foot. If the foot is squeezed, it can be difficult for cyclists to pedal uphill. Have a cycling expert at a bike shop help you find the perfect shoes and align your bike.

One last issue relating to the feet is the Achilles tendon, which often becomes inflamed when there are problems with the pedals, alignment, or your shoes. Achilles tendon injuries can be long-lasting, so if you notice pain in your heel or around it, stop riding and rest. If the area swells, use ice. Achilles tendon strains can also happen if your bike seat is too high because your calves have to be contracted and your toes pointed constantly.

Taking Care of the Low Back

With all of the support of the pedals, seat, and handlebars, it might come as a surprise that many cyclists experience back pain. Being in the cycling position for an extended period of time can put stress on the back, especially the low back. When stomach muscles are weak or not engaged, the low back becomes overworked and pain becomes the result. You must get your seat, handlebars, and pedals in the proper position. It is also important to take breaks while riding to give the back a break.

Avoiding Neck Pain

Overuse and limited rest can wreak havoc on the neck. The muscles at the base of the skull can tighten, which also causes nearby neck muscles and shoulder muscles to tighten, too. The unnatural riding position makes the head heavy for the neck.

To prevent neck pain from developing and spreading, it is important to have your bike fitted to you. To avoid neck pain, some cyclists will shorten the stem so they sit more upright. Cyclists should also focus on relaxing their shoulders by loosening their grip. Some cyclists use kinesiology tape on the low back, shoulders, and/or neck to help provide some support for the muscles. Research shows that kinesiology tape helps with shoulder discomfort which can also help relieve neck pain.

Finding Relief from Muscle Fatigue and Tightness

Dedicated cyclists often find that their leg muscles are too tight. Because of the repetitive motion, the legs learn to adapt and the brain does not register the tightness. But, when cyclists do a different exercise, the tightness becomes noticeable and uncomfortable.

When the muscles are too tight, cyclists run the risk of tearing them. To avoid problems, cyclists should stretch. Many cyclists also spend time in massage therapy or with a foam roller to help build some flexibility.

Tired muscles are also problematic for cyclists, especially their quads in their thighs. Consider the muscles that are used to propel a bicycle. Those muscles do get tired, and need to have some time to relax. When the muscles are overworked, lactic acid builds and pain begins. Some cyclists use kinesiology tape to help reduce muscle fatigue. Massage can also help bring some relief.

About Dr. Wells

Dr. Brent Wells founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in 1998. He is one of Anchorage’s top-rated chiropractors helping patients to have more active and pain-free lifestyles without drugs or invasive surgeries. He brings a progressive and highly innovative approach to chiropractic care. Dr. Wells continues to further his education with ongoing studies in spine conditions, neurology, physical rehabilitation, biomechanics, occupational ergonomics, whiplash, and brain injury traumatology. He is also a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.