Spring is a perfect opportunity to cycle for fitness, leisure or as a method of transportation. Although cycling has many health benefits including improved cardiovascular fitness, increased muscle strength and flexibility, and decreased stress levels, is not without risk of pain or injury. Eugenio Martinez, MD, physiatrist at NEBH offers the following advice to decrease this risk.
Before you “get on the saddle” and start to ride, you should be comfortable on your bike. Make sure it fits you properly. The saddle (bike seat) should be level to support your body weight and let you move around when needed. An improperly fitted seat can lead to overuse injuries as extra pressure is placed on arms, hands, hips and knees. To find your ideal seat height when riding, your knee should bend between 25 and 35 degrees with your foot at the bottom of the pedal. Handlebars should also be adjusted correctly. When reaching for your handlebars you should bend your elbows and be able to comfortably use all the positions on the handlebars. Incorrect positioning of the handlebars can cause neck, back and shoulder pain.
Once you have the proper equipment, here are some common orthopedic injuries and tips on how to prevent them:
Lower Back Pain and Neck Pain
Staying in a one riding position or being bent over the handle bars for long periods of time can contribute to low back and neck pain. If your handlebars are not adjusted correctly you may be putting stress on your back and neck. An arched back due to tight hamstrings could cause your neck to be hyperextended. To assist in preventing low back and neck pain try stretching, or a core strengthening routine, which will improve flexibility and help with form. Try these three exercises to strengthen your core.
This is a common overuse injury that can be triggered by holding a tight grip on handlebars. Doing so can lead to further conditions such as carpel tunnel syndrome. To avert this before riding try to stretch your wrists and hands. While riding, alternate the pressure your palms have in their grip on the handlebars.
Factors such as overuse, cycling position, the repetition of riding and the constant stress that is placed on the knees can contribute to knee pain. These factors can lead to other painful knee conditions including, cyclists’ knee (Patellofemoral syndrome), medial plica syndrome, patella and quadriceps tendinitis and iliotibial band friction syndrome. To assist in preventing these injuries, try changing the placement and positioning of your feet on the petals, or use shoe implants or wedges beneath your shoes. Stretching and strengthening exercises may also help. Again make sure your riding position is properly aligned.
Feet Pain/Achilles Tendonitis
Achilles Tendinitis is a condition that causes inflammation and irritation in the back of the heel which can be triggered by improper seat height and positioning while peddling. A common injury which causes pain in the bottom of the feet is plantar fasciitis. To prevent these common foot injuries it is important to have the correct shoes. Lack of support could allow the foot to collapse through the arch when peddling. You could invest in cycling specific shoes or wear orthotic shoe inserts to help with support. Shoes should extend fully under the ball of the foot for efficient peddling.