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Common Cyclist Knee Injuries and Pains Explained


Knee pain is one of the most common complaints of cyclists everywhere. And it’s no surprise why — when you’re pedaling your bike, your knees are basically in constant motion, which makes them especially susceptible to injuries, overuse, and wear and tear.

Of course, knee pain has a wide variety of causes — some of them serious,and some of them easily resolved with a little bit of ice and rest.

Feeling the pain in your knees? Check out this list of common cyclist knee pain issues and injuries to see what you need to do to feel happy and healthy on your bike again!

Pain at the front of your knee

Pain on the front of your knee (also known as your patella) usually means that your bike seat is either too low or too far forward. The pain is caused by your patella is being pushed and pulled too much by your femur as you pedal.

When your seat is too low or too far forward, your leg doesn’t have as much space as it needs when it is at the top of the revolution of your pedals. When this happens, the muscles and tendons at your knee joint experience too much pressure and force, which causes the pain.

By adjusting your seat position to allow for a smoother revolution of your pedals, you allow your joints to move more freely and naturally.

You might also experience patellar knee pain from grinding your way up a massive hill, or on other challenging terrain. Again, this comes from applying too much force to the joint (like when you’re jamming your legs down hard on the pedals to climb up a tough hill). Taking a break at the top of the hill to relax your joints and then taking it easier afterwards should help resolve the pain.

Pain behind your knee

Pain in the back of your knee can mean that you are overextending your legs as you pedal your bike. If your seat is too high or too far back, you can cause extra work and extension for your legs that, over time, causes major pain.

Riding a fixed gear bike can also cause pain in the back of your knee, since you are calling on your leg muscles (which all meet at the knee) to do the extra work of bracing to slow yourself down. By asking your hamstrings to carry this extra force regularly, you can strain them and cause pain along the back of your leg, particularly at the knee.

The best way to solve these pains is to give your legs a break! If you’re a fixed gear rider, spend some time riding a regular bike too, to avoid overusing your hamstrings. And if you’ve got a simple hyperextension problem, simply adjust your bike seat to make a full pedal revolution a little bit smaller and therefore easier on your knees.

Pain on your inner knee

Your collateral ligaments are to blame if your inner knees are hurting after a ride. Usually, cyclists irritate these ligaments by keeping their feet too close together when cycling.

You want your knees to be pushing down in, essentially, a straight line from the knee down to the ankle. If your knees are not lined up directly above your ankles and feet when you’re pedaling, then you are going to hurt your ligaments.

Pain on your outer knee

Your IT band is easy to irritate with repetitive motions that put it under strain. This connective tissue band runs the length of your leg, from the thigh to the tibia, and can become strained if your feet aren’t at the right distance apart or angle when you’re pedaling.

Typically, the IT band gets stressed if your toes are pointing in while pedaling because the angle causes it to be stretched more than is comfortable. Similarly, if your feet are placed too far apart on the pedals, your IT band is likely to be pulled and overworked.

To correct this issue, make sure that your knees are lined up directly above your ankles and feet as you pedal. The less strain you put on the tissue that supports your leg’s alignment by holding it in alignment yourself, the less pain you will encounter as you cycle.

How to avoid cyclist knee pain for good

Beyond solving any immediate knee pain issues you’re having on your bike, there are many things you can do to set yourself up to avoid discomfort altogether in the future.

The most important thing you can do is to get your bicycle properly fit to your body. Any local bike shop can help you to do this, and it doesn’t take very long. Make sure your handlebars are at an appropropriate height, so that you don’t have to strain forward to reach them. Make sure your seat leaves your legs room to pedal a full revolution without hyperextension.

Check out your form from time to time, as most knee-related issues are a result of long-term discomfort rather than one single incident. Even if you’re not currently experiencing knee pain, you could be building towards it. Check in on your form regularly and listen to your body when it aches.

Finally, avoiding anything “extreme” will help you avoid pain. This means not applying extreme force to your pedals when climbing a hill, pedaling in a gear that allows a steady pace with easy force, and keeping your legs lined up straight to your pedals. Treat your body like a machine; don’t push it to do things that strain the system. The steadier you go, the longer your knees will last.

Build in rests for yourself, particularly if you cycle a lot. The average commute into the office doesn’t usually require a significant cool-down period, but if your route has a lot of hills or challenging terrain, make sure to take a few minutes to stretch and rest your muscles before and after your ride.

If you like to do more challenging rides on the weekend, it’s even more important not to push yourself too hard without taking a day or two off to recover.

Do you ever experience knee pain when you’re riding your bike? How do you take care of it? Share your stories with us on Facebook!