Cycling, indoors and out, has experienced a surge of popularity in recent years. Nearly every fitness center or gym has cycling classes, and with the weather finally heating up, many bikers are eager to reunite with the outdoors. Whether you cycle to stay in shape, compete in races, meet new friends, or commute to work, understanding the inherent risks and potential injuries of the sport may just keep you safe during your ride! Regardless of whether you cycle recreationally or professionally, we recommend that you take a look at the information below to learn about the most common head-to-toe cycling ailments.
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Head injuries: There are laws governing seatbelt use, drug use, cell phone usage while driving, and more, all in an attempt to keep us safe in the case of an accident. However, most of the states in the U.S. have not produced laws regulating the use of helmets while riding a bike. For those of you who prefer to bike outside, helmets are an absolute necessity. Accidents occur for even the most wary and cautious of bikers, ranging from scrapes and bruises to brain injuries. Wearing a helmet could reduce your risk of head injury by approximately 85 percent, so we highly recommend shelling out a couple bucks for one!
Neck and back pain: Cycling forces us to hold our neck and backs in the same position for a long time, with very little reprieve. At the very least, this could result in cramping or soreness, but without proper stretching you could pull a muscle and wind up in a neck brace! In terms of back pain, the lower back suffers extreme duress as well when we spend longer periods of time cycling. Depending on the position of your handlebars, and the condition of your hamstrings, you may find that your back is hunched or arched for the majority of time you spend on your bike. This can result in conditions like nerve entrapment or sciatica. Cycling does not utilize the core in the same way that other forms of exercise do, so he lower back is often forced to overcompensate as a supporting structure. Make sure that you stretch your lower back and neck thoroughly after your workout to prevent serious injury.
Wrist and forearm pain: Just as you are never supposed to lock up your joints while you are lifting, fully extending your elbows while you bike can have serious consequences as well. If you lock out your arms, then every time you hit a bump in the road or come to a sudden stop, your elbow joint receives the brunt of the shock. Eventually, this force will wear down your joints. Also, holding your wrists in the same position during your ride can negatively impact those bones too. If you fail to adjust your grasp, you may find yourself suffering from the two most common wrist overuse injuries: cyclist’s palsy and carpal tunnel syndrome. We suggest alternating the pressure from the inside to the outsides of your palms, and try to keep your wrists from dropping beneath the bars. You can also do wrist circles to keep your joints loose and flexible.
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Knee pain: Knee pain is an incredibly common complaint amongst bikers, and it is no wonder: The amount of pressure and stress that the knee joint is subjected to, especially when the seat is set too low, or the gears set too high, can cause some serious damage. The most serious ailments that bikers' knees suffer include patellofemoral syndrome (cyclist’s knee), patella and quadriceps tendinitis, medial plica syndrome and iliotibial band friction syndrome. Make sure that you adjust your seat and gears to more comfortable levels, and work on your foot placement in order to avoid these injuries.
Sit-bone problems: Anyone who has ridden a bike for longer than, say, half an hour, knows the grating discomfort of those seats! The side-to-side motion of the pelvis during riding can cause a lot of unnecessary friction which, in turn, can result in a condition called "saddle sores." This skin disorder is most common in cyclists who wear old, worn biking shorts and those whose saddles are set too high. To avoid saddle sores, we recommend lowering your seat so that your pelvis does not slide as much, and invest in some chamois cream to ease your pain.
Foot injuries: Many cyclists frequently complain about numbness or tingling in their feet during their rides. This is largely in part to a poorly fitted shoe. Shoes that are too narrow or tight can often contribute to this type of discomfort. Foot numbness can also be attributed to a condition known as exertional compartment syndrome, which is the result of increased pressure in the lower leg and compression of nerves. Unfortunately, this particular injury requires surgery to correct. Make sure that you keep up with your stretching in order to minimize your risk for these ailments.
For more information on common ailments of cyclists, check out our sources: The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, Active.com.