Spring and Cycling Injuries – How Osteopathy can help

The recent Spring weather is great news for cyclists. Whether you’re in the saddle to commute, compete or just for fun, cycling is a fantastic way to get around and also excellent exercise.

In my experience, injuries are usually caused by overuse or poor riding position and be due to a poor set up of bike. We often see professional riders stretched out on a massage couch after a Grand Tour stage, having any bio-mechanical issues addressed ahead of the next day’s racing. And now an increasing number of us are seeing the importance of looking after our bodies from head to toe, in order to alleviate or even prevent aches and pains on and off the bike

Common Cycling Injuries

Lower Back Pain

This is largely caused by the sustained flexed forward position in cycling which can put excessive pressure through the joints and discs of your low back.

How to avoid it:

  • Raise your handlebars to reduce the amount of flexion going through your lower back
  • Do some daily stretches to improve hip and lumbar flexibility.
  • An Osteopath can advise on the best stretches for you.

Neck Pain and Headaches

Neck pain and headaches can also be due to a flexed forward cycling posture. This in turn causes your neck to over-extend, especially when you are looking up and around. Long periods of neck extension lead to muscle tightness,  joint pain and associated headaches.

How to avoid them:

  • Try raising your handle bars to decrease the extension curve in your neck.
  • If possible, alter your cycling position, so you are sitting more upright for short periods.
  • Do regular neck flexion and side-bending stretches to ease neck and shoulder tension.

Knee Pain

Common causes of knee pain are saddle too low and cleats not optimally positioned. A saddle that is too low means that your knee and leg never straighten out fully. This leads to shortened hamstrings, sustained tension on the knee cap and weakening of the muscle controlling the last 10 degrees of knee extension. All of these can lead to knee problems including patella maltracking, patella tendonitis and overuse injuries.

Many road cyclists use cleats to connect their shoes to the pedals. Whilst cleats improve performance, they can also result in persistent knee pain if not optimally positioned.

How to avoid it:

  • Raise your saddle
  • Optimise cleat position
  • Cycle in a lower gear to decrease the amount of stress through your knee on each pedal stroke.
  • Consider getting a bespoke cycling experience done. If you live in Hampshire, try Service De Velo in Botley.

Hand and Wrist Pain

Leaning forwards during cycling puts a lot of tension through forearms and hands, which can be exacerbated by gripping too hard and not varying hand position. This can lead to repetitive Strain (RSI) type symptoms with pain and tightness in the wrist, forearm and elbow.

Some cyclists also experience tingling and numbness into their hands and fingers. This most commonly affects the little and ring fingers, but can affect the others too. It is caused by compression of the ulnar or median nerves due to the sustained wrist and hand position on the handlebars. This can be made worse from vibration due to cycling on rough terrain.

How to avoid it:

  • Change your hand position on the handlebars regularly.
  • Try to keep wrists straight rather than over-extended.

Muscle Strains and Tears

Hamstrings and calf muscles are most commonly injured amongst cyclists. This is because these muscle groups get particularly tight, making them more vulnerable to tears and tendon injuries.

How to avoid them:

  • Warm up before a ride and stretch afterwards to keep your muscles healthy and flexible. Using a foam roller after a ride can help with this too.
  • Check saddle height. A saddle that is too high can put strain through hamstring tendons.
  • Check cleat position as cleats too far forward may put strain through the achilles tendon.
  • Build up gradually to longer-distance cycling.

Key Notes

The Right Bike Fit Changes Everything

Whether commuting to work or a seasoned racer, everyone can benefit from the added comfort, efficiency and injury prevention a professional bike fit will bring.

Osteopathy can also give you the best chance of staying pain-free by maintaining joint health, mobility, muscle flexibility and giving individualised exercise advice.

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