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Common cycling pains and how to deal with them

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As with any sport or physical hobby, cycling can incur injuries, and every cyclist will no doubt encounter some sort of discomfort or pain during a given year.

Ailments can range from numbness and small twinges in the muscles, through to extensive pain, which can inevitably lead to you taking the foot off the pedal for some time.

Both the frequency and severity of injuries will vary from person to person, but the good news is that there are ways of treating common cycling pains before they develop into serious problems.

In this article, we’ll go through some of the most common issues a cyclist can face, and how you can go about dealing with them:

Neck pain

Pain around the neck area is particularly common among road cyclists who ride with dropped handlebars, as the neck will often tilt backwards (hyperextending) while riding.

The position can cause neck extensors deep within the neck to become both fatigued and stiff.

This occurs when the trapezius muscle (found from the base of the skull to the shoulder) supports the weight of the head for an extended period of time.

To avoid neck pain while cycling, consider changing your hand positions throughout your ride and ensure that there is always a bend within the elbows so that you can ease the stress along your neck and shoulders.

Also, try raising the handlebars on your bike, but if the stiffness and pain continue, we would recommend lower trapezius exercises once or twice per week.

The video below offers some great and easy exercises that you might want to consider.

Hand pain (or numbness)

It is quite common for cyclists to feel a tingling or numbness in their hands after cycling, and this is known as ulnar neuropathy.

This occurs when the hands have been in the same positions for an extended period of time, alongside pressure from your body, and the vibration of the road.

If you find that this is something that you suffer from, like with neck pain, you should consider changing your hand positions at regular intervals and redistribute your body weight accordingly.

You can also lessen numbness by wearing gloves that have padding over the ulnar area (outside of the hand), and you can buy foam or gel padding that can be fitted along the handlebars of your bike to cushion the contact area.

If your hands and wrists are experiencing pain, rather than numbness, consider the tilt of your saddle, which will affect the amount of weight that you put on your hands, depending on its angle; you need to ensure that it is level.

While riding, check that your wrists have a 10 to 15-degree bend on the bars, a little more or a little less over an extended period of time can cause significant aches.

You can decide on the correct angle by observing the skin on the top of your wrists. If you are holding the bars and a fold appears, you’ve gone too far.

Straighten them until the folds just disappear and you will have found the right angle.

Lower back pain

Quite possibly one of the most common bodily complaints a cyclist might face is a pain within the lower back.

This could, of course, be the result of multiple factors, alongside whether you have sustained an injury in the area before.

Usually, faults can be found in anything from saddle heights to cleat set-up, but this will be a lengthy trial and error process to try and discover the cause of your pain.

Checking your position during a ride should be your first priority, to ensure that your hips don’t rock from side to side as you pedal — you can try lowering the saddle until they are stable.

If it happens to be too low, and your knee comes up above hip level during a pedal stroke, this can also add unnecessary stress to the lower back.

Your posture is the next area that you need to consider, as your back should always be flat, with only a slight amount of curvature. If you find that you are riding with a somewhat curved back, roll your pelvis forward to form a more neutral spine.

You can also consider bringing your handlebars and saddle closer to one another so that you can maintain your posture.

Also, if you’re trying to emulate professional riders by lying forward with low handlebars, it’s worth knowing that this is a position that should be adopted over time — so don’t go straight into it.

The video below offers some great tips on how to relieve lower back pain.

Hip pain

Hip pain in cyclists is commonly due to overtraining and overworking the muscles in your buttocks.

This is commonly known as piriformis syndrome, and the piriformis is a small muscle that rotates the leg outwards.

Although this isn’t something that cyclists tend to do, the muscle can contract and weaken to the point where it inflicts pressure on the sciatic nerve, which can cause both numbness and pain.

This usually happens when the piriformis is underused, and you can help strengthen it with a variety of stretches

Try lying on your back, bending both knees while crossing your left leg over your right. Your ankle should now rest on your right knee.

Do this with both legs and bring your legs towards your chest, deepening the stretch by grabbing your thigh and gently pulling.

For a better idea of what we mean, check out the below video of the aforementioned stretch and others.

Groin and buttock pain

The wrong kind of saddle that doesn’t suit your body structure will always give you some amount of pain, and you can test whether you have one by seeing how your ischial tuberosities (sitting bones) and pubic rami (forward pelvic bones) feel when you ride.

However, the right kind of saddle can also cause problems for cyclists if you are sitting awkwardly or it is not in the best position.

Keep the saddle level without angling the nose so that your weight is not distributed unnaturally.

Another cause of groin pain can be caused by the handlebars being positioned too far away, as this can roll the pelvis too far forward and place an extra burden on sensitive tissues.

Knee pain

Pain within the knees can be particularly hampering, and this can be caused by a poor bike fit.

That said, however, there are common signs to look out for when dealing with knee pain.

If the discomfort is located in the front of the knee (otherwise known as posterior knee pain), this could be caused by a low saddle.

Conversely, a saddle that resides in a high position can also cause pain both in the sides (lateral and or medial knee pain (depending on which side)), and at the back of a knee (anterior knee pain).

Moving away from the bike, another common cause of knee pain can arise from a tight IT band, which is the tissue that runs down the outer thigh.

Although this might sound serious, the issue can often be resolved using foam rolling and other forms of massage.

If you find that your knee pain is particularly harsh, and you have been unable to resolve it over a significant period of time, we would recommend seeing a physiotherapist, osteopath, or another medical professional who will be able to evaluate your flexibility and weaknesses.

Stretching and yoga for cyclists
Yoga is a good exercise for cyclists to prevent RSI (repetitive strain injury)

Foot pain

Perhaps the most common form of foot pain that a cyclist will encounter, is known in the community as “hot foot”, which is a burning pain that resides in the ball of the foot.

Caused by swelling during prolonged or intense periods of high pedal pressure, hot foot occurs due to the compression of nerves between the heads of the foot’s five metatarsal bones, located within the widest part of the foot.

There are a range of solutions for dealing with hot foot including the wearing of thinner socks, loosening the straps on your shoes (particularly the one closest to the ankle), and buying new shoes altogether.

As a tip, always try new riding shoes when you are wearing your riding socks so that you can ensure a perfect fit.

Common pains can also be found in the arch of the foot, and much of the pain around here can be rooted in genetics and how your feet have formed as you grew up.

You can help keep pain at bay around the arch of the foot by purchasing comfortable wicking socks and cycle shoes that support your arches. Search out a pair of shoes that include different sized wedges that you can slide into the insole.

As always, your cleat position and tension, alongside good form and posture, is always an area to consider if you find yourself with any amount of foot pain while cycling.

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