Whether you are a competitive rider or like getting out on the bike in your spare time, the reality is that injuries are part and parcel of cycling.
The trauma-style injuries of a fall or being hit by a vehicle are often an unfortunate side effect of careless driving or inadequate safety precautions for cyclists. These injuries will continue to stack up until there’s a drastic change in how drivers treat those on two wheels, or the government makes the roads safer with more cycle lanes.
However, for the purpose of this article, we wanted to explore those injuries that are common for many cyclists – be they muscular, joint pain, or something that, to an extent, can be avoided.
Often, posture, technique and better equipment can help to minimize the risk of injury, and so it’s also worth looking at ways that we can keep our exposure to injuries and ailments to a minimum with preventative measures or the correct period of recovery.
At some point or another, most regular cyclists will experience back pain of some kind.
Being curled over a set of handlebars is an unnatural position for the spine, which is ideally designed to remain in a vertical straight line at all times.
These aches and pains can also be exacerbated in the workplace, so you could be carrying a bad back and poor posture from the office to the road, and vice versa. A study has found that half of all overuse injuries in cycling are back-related, so looking after your spine is essential.
Related issues such as aching hips and even some leg pain can be referred from the back thanks to the sciatic nerve, so avoiding a bad back in your cycling is a necessity.
Can we completely avoid back pain as cyclists? Perhaps not in many cases, but there are certain things that we can try to keep issues to a minimum. Think about your seat and handlebar height – do you ride higher or lower than the norm? Your posture on your bike is likely to be a significant contributory factor in your back woes.
If you want to adopt an ‘aggressive’ riding position, it is recommended that you ease into it with gradual seat and handlebar height adjustments, rather than simply diving into a hill climb with your spine curved like the letter ‘c’.
One contributory cause of back pain can also be a weak core, so if you have the time to investigate, strengthening exercises may improve your cycling in more ways than one. The abs, the glutes, the hamstrings, and the muscles that protect the back are all key components of retaining good posture instead of ‘collapsing’ your core when riding.
If you are already suffering from back pain, you should take the time to get better before embarking on a big ride. Take some downtime and enjoy your other hobbies, from cooking and listening to music to countryside walks and playing your favourite casino games. It might also be worth doing some gentle exercise such as yoga or Pilates. You might not like it, but rest and recuperation are essential components of any successful training regime.
A pain in the neck
Positioning and posture can also be factors in cyclists suffering from a sore neck, which can be common in those who embark on slow and long rides for prolonged periods.
Most neck pain in cyclists is simply soreness from poor positioning. Think about how your spine is curved but your head is pointing upwards so that you can see the road ahead – this creates tremendous pressure on the vertebrae and the muscles of the neck.
Some useful exercises can be performed while cycling slowly. Imagine that you are elongating your spine, tucking your stomach into your pelvis, and sliding your shoulder blades down your back, all while keeping your chest and chin raised (albeit in a relaxed fashion).
This lengthening will help to reduce the pressure on your neck, and as you ride out, remember to periodically stretch your neck muscles by gently rotating your head in circles and from side to side.
Strong knees are of paramount importance for cyclists looking to beat their personal best sprint times or climb up the most vertical of ascents.
Any slight injury or ache can be incredibly painful for a cyclist, and for the most part, the only viable recovery option is complete rest.
So, ironing out any issues that may cause knee pain while biking is critical – often, this is caused by a saddle that is fixed too low and therefore increases the angle at which your knee points relative to your lower leg.
Simply by raising your saddle, you will peddle with a more straight-legged motion. This change could potentially alleviate some of your knee pain and ongoing stiffness.
However, with your saddle fixed too high, your pain may move from the front of the knee to the back, given the extra pressure required to pump your pedals. Finding a happy medium through trial and error is recommended.
If you are already suffering from neck pain, decreasing your workload is essential as you work towards full fitness.
Newcomers to cycling often say the same thing: nobody told us about the immense pain that biking causes to the rear.
Experienced cyclists know that this will pass in time as the derriere becomes more accustomed to the rigours being asked of it, though even the best in the business still suffer from painful sores.
‘Saddle sores’ can be an unexpected and most unwelcome side effect for those new to hitting the open road on two wheels.
Once again, rest is the best way to treat saddle sores – that angry skin needs time to cool down, and any attempted workarounds, such as sitting slightly to one side on your saddle to alleviate pressure, can actually cause more significant postural injuries.
Saddle shape can impact how badly you suffer from sore flesh, and you should also consider the kit you wear – ill-fitting shorts, without an adequate protective layer, will also increase the likelihood that you will suffer.
The good news is that many cycling injuries are preventable, or at the very least, you can significantly reduce your chances of encountering them. Still, you will need to invest time and money into getting your set-up right for your individual needs.