Although cycling can be a great way to stay in shape and improve your health, it is not completely without risks. Even if you aren’t in a collision or other accident, many cyclists suffer from common injuries and issues related to their riding form or their bike’s size settings.
Being aware of the impact cycling can have on your body will help you make sure you are keeping your whole body safe and strong while you’re on your bike. Many of these problems come from not being aware of how your body moves or is strained while you’re riding; once you are clued into how your body is working and feeling, you’ll be even more able to avoid these issues.
To help you stay happy and healthy on your bike, here are some of the most common injuries and issues that frequent cyclists encounter, plus tips to help you avoid each one.
It should be no surprise that one of the most common cycling injuries comes from the repetitive, constant motion of your legs while you ride. When your leg muscles are doing too much of the work, the muscles of the quadriceps can become overworked and overtired, leading to pain in the patellar tendon. This tendon is located just below the knee and becomes painful when it does too much work unassisted by your gluteal muscles when you’re working your legs.
To avoid this injury, make sure that your seat isn’t too low and that you don’t ride too long in a very low gear. Your whole leg should be working, from your calves all the way up to your glutes, when you ride.
If it feels like your legs are moving too rapidly and easily through each cycle of the pedals, try shifting to a higher gear that will challenge your leg muscles more. This will keep all the work evenly distributed so that no tendons or muscles become weakened or painful.
Lower back pain
Cycling can often mean holding your body in an unnatural position for quite a while, which can strain your back if it isn’t properly supported by the rest of your body.
By leaning forward while you ride, you help yourself move efficiently and aerodynamically; however, this forward lean, while you’re also pushing force down into the pedals, ends up causing your back and spine to be flexed for the entirety of your ride. This often results in everything from minor discomfort and aching muscles all the way to herniated lumbar discs.
The best way to avoid these discomforts and injuries is to make sure that your bike frame is the right size for your body. If your frame is too big, it will put undue stress on your spine and back muscles as you reach far forward for the handlebars and down for the pedals. Make sure your seat is in a comfortable place for you to reach, as well; if you aren’t sure, try moving it around and getting on your bike to see where you feel most balanced and least strained. Your lean forward should feel natural and supported, not challenging.
When you’re not on your bike, any work you can do to strengthen your core muscles will help with back pain as well. Your core muscles will support your entire torso and spine, and help your back not to strain and sag when you’re in a cycling posture on your bike.
Acromioclavicular joint and clavicle injuries
Even if you aren’t hit by a car or fellow cyclist, it is still very possible to fall off your bike and injure yourself. Whether you hit a pothole or slip in a sharp turn, falling onto your shoulder or clavicle is one of the most common ways to hurt yourself falling off your bike.
Clavicles get broken when you put your arm out to stop your fall; it’s instinctive to want to brace yourself as you feel yourself falling, but unfortunately it can often mean a broken bone as the impact travels up your arm and breaks at the clavicle.
The best thing to do if you feel yourself falling is to actually just hold onto your handlebars. This means you’ll fall fully on your side, which sounds bad — but it’s actually safer and better for you since it allows more of your body to absorb the impact and distribute it evenly.
If you keep your hands on the handlebars in a fall, you are still in danger of injuring your acromioclavicular joint — essentially, this is your shoulder joint. If you have your arms out straight in front of you on the handlebars as you fall, this is one of the first places that will hit the ground and take the impact of your fall.
While this injury is preferable to a broken bone, it still isn’t ideal. To prevent an injury to this joint, try to bend your elbows as you should onto your handlebars on the way down. This will help your shoulder not to be the very first point hit, and not having your arms stiff and straight in front of you will help them absorb the impact without additional damage.
The most common friction-related injury that cyclists encounter is a condition called saddle sores, wherein the skin that comes into contact with your bicycle seat becomes irritated after extended periods of time on your bike.
Needless to say, saddle sores can be quite uncomfortable and tend to be most common among amateur cyclists who have not developed a riding posture that avoids this uncomfortable, ongoing rubbing.
If you’re experiencing friction during your ride, one of the quickest fixes is adjusting your seat height. Saddle sores are usually caused by your body rocking side to side while you ride, and so lowering your seat to be closer to the pedals will help you move less as you pedal. You can also try adjusting the angle of your seat to see if that can help you stay more still while you ride as well.
If you already have saddle sores, try sitting on an ice pack or applying a gentle cream to the affected areas. Once you are feeling better, try adjusting your seat and being conscious of your body’s motion while riding, and you should hopefully avoid them going forward. The less you sway side to side in your seat, the less painful friction there is.
Stay safe every time you ride your bike
Even though it’s possible to injure yourself while riding your bike, many of these injuries are avoidable by having a well fit bike and by being conscious of where you are flexing and straining your body as you ride. The most conscious you are of your body, the better care you will take of it, and the less likely you are to suffer from long-term injuries or be seriously hurt in the event of an unavoidable fall or accident.
Pay attention to your body and make changes as you go. That’s the best way to stay safe and happy on your bike!
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