While cyclists don’t experience many of the most common injuries that those involved in higher-impact activities do, they do encounter a wide range of other ailments. From knee pain to tendinitis, the repetitive nature of cycling can take a toll on your body. Indeed, research has shown that neck and back pain alone affect around 60% of cyclists.
To get an idea of some of the most common cycling injuries, it’s worth looking at statistics from the professional field. In one study of elite road cyclists over the course of 12 months, 94 injuries were reported from 116 cyclists. Of those, 45% were related to lower back issues and 23% occurred in the knee. There was also a smaller number of other various lower leg injuries.
You might not be putting in the same amount of mileage as the pros, but recreational cyclists experience many similar injuries. These are often related to things like overtraining, poor bike fit, strength and flexibility imbalances, and other biomechanical issues. None of these problems are without solutions. In fact, if they are addressed early on, many of the most common injuries can be prevented from occurring in the first place.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of common cycling ailments, as well as how to respond, will help you skirt major issues that can leave you on the bench. In the vast majority of cases, arming yourself with some basic injury information and listening to your body will keep you cycling all season long.
For all cyclists, it is important to intuit the difference between harmless soreness and pain associated with an injury. If you’re entering into a new training program after a period of inactivity, you’re likely to experience a few aches as your body adjusts. If, however, you experience sharp or intense pain anywhere, you should respond immediately. This is your body signaling something is going haywire.
If it’s just run-of-the-mill soreness, proceed with your training as planned. Delayed onset muscle soreness can rear its ugly head a day or more after an activity, so it may take a week or so before you’re feeling fresh again. Fortunately, soreness doesn’t signal anything catastrophic and will resolve on its own.
For more serious injuries, your first move should be to pull back the reins on your training program so you can assess the situation. Catching an injury in the early stages and responding appropriately can mean the difference between a couple of days and a couple of months off.
If you identify what you think might be a developing injury early on, here are a few things to try at home:
1. Decrease mileage.
Since overuse is one of the leading causes of cycling injuries, adjusting your training is the first thing you should do when responding to a suspect pain. Depending on the injury, this may mean ceasing cycling completely or simply reducing your weekly training mileage. If the issue resolves itself in a couple of days, be conservative about bumping up your mileage again.
2. Add cross-training.
If your knee hurts, for instance, try swapping some of your cycling mileage for swimming. The repetitive nature of cycling may be at the root of your issue, so choosing an alternative low-impact aerobic activity will allow you to keep building cardiovascular fitness without all that spinning.
3. Apply ice to your trouble spots.
Icing helps to reduce inflammation. Grab a bag of frozen peas, or freeze paper cups full of water, and apply it to the source of the pain for 10 minutes two to three times per day.
4. Use self-massage on sore spots.
Foam rollers and massage sticks are a great way to work out many common soft-tissue problems before they develop into full-blown injuries. When caught early, injuries such as IT band syndrome can often be addressed simply by foam rolling a few minutes each day.
If the at-home strategies have failed, or if you experience intense or persistent pain, you should schedule an appointment with a specialist. The question is: Which doctor should you see? Here is a rundown of some of the best docs to turn to for cycling injuries:
Sports medicine physician: If you’re stumped on where to turn for an injury, sports medicine doctors are a good place to start. Not only can they diagnose a wide range of cycling issues, but they also work closely with physical therapists and athletic trainers who can devise a rehab plan that’ll get you on the road to recovery.
Bike-fit specialist: Consulting an expert on bike fit may resolve all of your issues. By dialing in everything from seat height to pedal placement, you’ll get into the most efficient and comfortable position on the bike.
Podiatrist: For injuries that affect the knee on down to the foot, a podiatrist may be your best bet. Specializing in foot issues, they treat everything from plantar fasciitis to Achilles tendinitis. They can also assist with creating custom-made orthotics, which can help cyclists avoid injuries up the entire kinetic chain.
Chiropractor: Many active people swear by their chiropractors to keep their bodies in optimal alignment. Not only can a chiropractor assist in addressing a whole host of bone and soft tissue injuries, but they also serve as a good option for regular maintenance work. In addition to adjustments, they also can employ soft tissue therapies like Active Release Technique and Graston.
Sports massage therapist: These soft tissue specialists are trained to work out knots and adhesions that cause pain and limit adequate muscle function. Many of them are also certified in Active Release Technique and Graston for more serious issues.
Physical therapist: Physical therapists can provide a rehab plan for existing injuries, and they can assist in identifying the root cause of your issues. Through a series of tests, including a biomechanical assessment and strength and balance diagnostics, they are often able to figure out what caused the problem in the first place. In addition to rehabilitation, they often provide exercises to help you prevent similar issues from occurring down the road.