Cycling – on Britain’s roads especially – is perceived by many as dangerous. While to a degree this may be true, it’s not cycling itself that is dangerous, but rather other road users who increase the risk.
Compared to other forms of aerobic exercise – like running for example – cycling is very low impact as it’s not weight bearing. This means your chance of picking up an injury from cycling is a lot lower. So much so that when scientists compared cyclists to long-distance runners, they found the runners suffered.
Of course, while the risk of getting injured is lower than other activities, it doesn’t mean it’s completely impossible. Luckily, some common cycling injuries can be treated and avoided with a little bit of self-care. We’ve collated some of the most common along with some tips and tricks on how you can help your body avoid and treat them…
Discover more: What Are The Health Benefits Of Cycling? [Interactive]
The knees are instrumental in cycling – they’re the very joint that ensures the pedals keep on turning. The downside of this though is that when your knees are in pain, there’s just no way to get around it when you’re on the bike.
The first thing to do is get to the bottom of where your knee pain is coming from. More often than not, knee pain arises as a result of a poor bike fit. Fortunately, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for:
- Pain behind the knee – often an indicator that your hamstring is being overstretched by your saddle being too high.
- Pain at the front of the knee – conversely, this is caused by a saddle that’s too low which puts pressure on your kneecap.
- Pain at the side of the knee – often caused by your cleats not being set up correctly meaning the knee isn’t rotating as it should do.
We recommend having a professional bike fitting to prevent knee pain, the money you’ll save on physio fees will make it worth your while!
If you pick up a knee injury, the main thing is to keep away from the bike for a little while – a week’s rest now is better than months off if you make your injury worse. The use of foam-rollers, ice and/or anti-inflammatories should be your next go to.
Lower back pain
Cyclist or not, we’ve all dealt with back pain at one time or another. Spending a lot of time bent over the handlebars does no favours for your back and when combined with the demands of our modern lifestyle such as slumping over a computer for long periods of time, you’ve got the recipe for one sore back.
As with knee pain, it’s best to take measures to avoid back pain before it starts. The most useful thing you can do is self-assess how your day-to-day posture is – here are some tips:
- If you have a desk job, try and practise good posture at your desk as much as you can. This starts with making sure your hips and knees are at 90
- Stuck on what to focus on in your next cross training session? Give your core muscles a good work out. Having a strong core means your back will have more support on the bike.
- If you’re positioning is designed for maximum aero, maybe think about dialling it back a bit. Having a high saddle with incredibly low bars puts a lot of pressure on your back.
Another parallel between back and knee pain is how to treat them – taking the time to rest and stretch with a foam roller should alleviate your symptoms.
Arm, wrist, hand and neck pain
As cycling relies on our lower body to pedal, it’s easy to neglect caring for our top half. Pain in the arms, wrists, hands and neck is also a common cyclist niggle. When you’re riding your bike a lot of pressure is transmitted through your upper body.
Upper body pain due to riding is usually down to putting too much pressure on the handlebars. So, the first port of call is to check you’re not reaching too far or too low for the handlebars. If the handlebars are positioned correctly you should have around 60% of your body weight at the back of your bike and 40% at the front.
Wherever you position yourself on the bike, your hands are always going to take a battering on the handlebars. To counteract this, the best thing you can do is invest in a quality pair of cycling gloves.
An unfortunate consequence of cycling on the UK’s roads is the possibility of crashes. Injuries from a cycling crash can both look and be the most severe, so ‘a prevention is better than a cure’ certainly springs to mind here. However, although taking safety precautions and keeping your wits about you can help, sometimes you crash because of another road user and there’s nothing you can do.
You can often see these injuries outside the body – road rash (grazing off the skin caused by skidding along the tarmac) being among the most common. Although these are annoying, they’re rarely serious and can be treated by cleaning the rash and keeping it clean using antiseptic cream.
If you’ve had a serious crash, the injuries can go a lot deeper than the skin. Even if you feel fine you should seek medical attention just in case you have a concussion that could turn nasty. If you’ve broken a bone the chances are it’s your collarbone which is the most common break for cyclists. Luckily a broken collarbone only takes around 6 weeks to heal so you won’t be out of action for too long!
Saddle sores are a nuisance and, if they get worse, can even force you out of action.! While friction between your bum and the seat is an inevitable part of cycling, there are measures you can take to avoid them.
Saddle sores can be caused by having a saddle that’s too high or a saddle shape that isn’t suited to you. Lowering your saddle can prevent excessive side-to-side movement, which can cause friction against the seat.
Cycling shorts that are the wrong fit and/or that are old and lost some of their cushioning is a cause of saddle sores too. As with most sport apparel, cycling shorts are a matter of preference so when you find a pair that work well for you, buy a few extra and rotate them to keep the cushioning from wearing down.
As low impact as cycling is, you now have the means to prevent even the most common injuries from occurring. As always, if the issue you’re struggling with persists, always check with a physio or doctor to see if there’s a more serious issue at play. For added protection on the roads, be sure to check out cycling insurance.