Treating Common Bike Injuries

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

If you’re an avid cyclist, the chances are good that you will suffer a cycling injury in your lifetime, most likely from a crash, but not necessarily. According to a recent study, the parts of your body most commonly affected by cycling injuries are, in order, an upper extremity, i.e., arm or hand; a lower extremity, usually the knee; the head or neck; the torso or back; and the face (ouch!).

We are going to address some of these cycling injuries and suggest how you can treat and/or prevent them. The best way to avoid an impact injury caused by a crash is, obviously, to ride carefully. If you do crash heavily, see a doctor immediately. Even if you only feel a little woozy and nothing is broken, you may have suffered a concussion, which means you will have to rest and stay off the bike, and even off your feet, for a while.

You can also suffer muscle strain from a crash. Strains generally don’t feel serious, so you might want to get right back on your bike. Don’t. Have a physical therapist examine you before you resume riding.

Injuries of the knee, head and neck can often be caused by overuse – that is, riding too much. According to studies, overuse injuries account for 50 to 60% of all cycling injuries. That’s an impressive statistic and it applies equally to recreational and professional cyclists. Recreational cyclists suffer significantly more from neck and shoulder pain than elite cyclists do. This is almost certainly due to poor bike fit and the failure of those parts of the body to adapt to the exertion.

Cyclists legs
Pushing hard on a bike is a lot about the amount of pain you are able to take. © Profimedia

Knee pain is the most common overuse injury, followed by back pain. You can reduce the chances of suffering from knee pain by strengthening your buttock muscles (glutes) and quadriceps. These muscle groups do most of the work when you pedal. And if the fit of your bike is causing you knee pain, try adjusting the height of the saddle. Low saddle height can increase forces across the joint where the back of your kneecap and thigh bone meet at the front of your knee. So, increasing saddle height in response to knee pain is a frequent recommendation.

Spending all those hours bent over handlebars puts pressure on your lower back, primarily because this is not a natural position for the human body. And if you also spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer screen, the problem only grows worse. In addition, lower back pain can force you to change your posture to ease the discomfort, which leads to additional problems for your body. As a result, you may feel pain in the hip or, if the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain may travel from your lower back, through the buttocks and thigh, into the knee and the toes. Sciatica is very painful and reacts slowly to treatment.

If you suffer from lower-back pain, rest and stretch your back and hips, by hanging from a chinning bar, for example. If the problem persists, see a physical therapist, osteopath or chiropractor.

To avoid a recurrence of back pain, try raising the handlebars on your bike. If you work at a desk, improve your posture by straightening your back and shoulders and putting something, like a rolled-up towel, between the hollow of your lower back and the back of the chair. You may also want to strengthen your core by doing the plank every day. This will also make you a stronger rider.

If you suffer from these issues but they are not serious enough to worry you, it’s still a good idea to consult a physical therapist for advice and exercises you can perform to keep the problems from getting worse. It will go a long way toward increasing your enjoyment of being on a bike.