Fitness and Performance

Cycling injuries: How to recognise and treat them

Jun 24 2019

The arrival of warmer weather and the pro-road cycling tours now well underway. As such, this has encouraged many more of us out onto the roads.

The benefits of cycling are well documented for both physical and mental well-being and often regarded as one of the best low impact and inclusive sports around. It has also become a very competitive sport with a plethora of cycling and triathlon events to choose from. However, it also comes with its fair share of cycling injuries. Physio Claire Edwards tells us more in the first part of her cycling series…

Unfortunately, as with any sport, cycling has its commonly associated injuries. Taking to the roads introduces external hazards not faced in your living room. Additionally, along with a disproportionate leap in training intensity, frequency and duration. Any of these can lead to overload and overuse. The good news is that with awareness and foresight, there are fairly simple measures you can take to prevent cycling injuries.

So, this year, whether you’re new to cycling or having spent the winter pushing your avatar through a virtual world, take a moment to assess yourself and your equipment and pay attention to how you are feeling during and after your rides.

Acute trauma as a result of a crash is the most obvious cause of cycle-related injuries. The most common is from overuse, which is caused by repetitively loading a tissue incorrectly. It is usually combined with inadequate recovery. Furthermore, sustained poor postures and constant repetitive movements can lead to certain areas being more commonly affected than others.

The hip bone’s connected to the leg bone…

Even after an accident, where the acute injury has healed or nothing was actually broken, straining a muscle or severe bruising will disrupt biomechanics. This can also cause further imbalances to develop elsewhere. The avoidance of a particular movement or pressure on a certain area can cause overuse and compensation elsewhere which may go unnoticed. In fact, overuse injuries become chronic if left to persist. As a result, something that may have started intermittently on the bike begins to last and encroach into other areas of your life.

Early intervention of cycling injuries

Whilst accidents require immediate medical attention, we are less likely to seek advice quickly for the ‘little aches and pains’ that creep up on us slowly. If not addressed, these can end up being far more aggravating and disruptive. Remember to be aware of potential concussion.

The key to injury management is early recognition and intervention. Follow up to receive an accurate assessment for diagnosis of the structure(s) involved, and to determine the cause. It is important to determine whether the problem is intrinsic (the condition of the cyclist), extrinsic (the mechanics of the bike and/or equipment, or the environment), or a combination of both by looking simultaneously at the rider and the bike.

The rider or the bike?

The easiest way to ensure you are ready to up the miles is to have a bike fit and consider a specific functional movement screen for cycling, carried out by a physiotherapist.

The bike must fit the rider and consequently must be conditioned to the movement and postural demands of cycling. Complimenting your workouts with strength and conditioning programs is optimal with the use of bodyweight exercise and free weights rather than machines to enable compound functional movement performed in the anatomical position you will need to be in on your bike.

A BikeFit looks at the effect of bike position in relation to the specific individual riding it. The most aerodynamic position may not be the one that generates the most power, and if too severe for the cyclist will actually inhibit force transfer as well as lead to tissue overload and injury.

Listed below are the common areas where cycling injuries can occur, the potential reasons behind them and some useful treatment tips to avoid them. The treatment of an injury or pain must address both the symptoms and the underlying cause.

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Hip pain
  • Knee pain
  • Ankle and foot pain
  • Hand and wrist pain
  • AC joint sprain
  • Saddle sores

What are you doing when you are not cycling?

For most, time will be spent working, travelling or time with family. These all place different demands on the musculoskeletal system. Look at positioning away from the bike. How long do you spend on certain tasks, such as sitting at a computer, driving a car or prolonged standing? Try to analyse the demands on your body. What measures do you already take to maintain the health of your tissues?

Good flexibility, strength and posture away from the bike are more likely to avoid muscle imbalance, compensations and delayed muscle activation on it, often the causes of pain rather than true weakness.

  • Do you regularly get up, move and stretch reversing poor posture?
  • Do you have a maintenance program to keep your core postural muscles strong?
  • Finally, are you supported correctly in your seating at work? Does your company provide an ergonomic workplace assessment, and have you used it?

In the next issue, I will continue to look at the effects poor posture can have on a cyclist with a focus on the spine and how you can avoid it.