Originally published at: https://blog.cyclop.in/cycling-pain-and-how-to-cure-them/
Cycling done wrong can cause pains and aches. The most common reasons for pain are:
- Poor bike fit
- Poor cycling posture.
Here are the common pains so you can troubleshoot or even avoid pain in the future.
1. Neck Pain
One of the most common cycling pains is neck pain. Around 44% of male cyclists and 55% of female cyclists claim to have suffered from neck pain at least once.
The primary cause that triggers neck pain is the misalignment of your head with the neck and spine while riding. The head is significantly heavy, and this causes strain in your neck as it struggles to hold up your head.
The reason for this misalignment could be a poor bike fit. If you have a seat that’s too far back, or handlebars that are too low, or a stem that is too long; then you might automatically be compelled to overextend your neck.
Poor posture can be another cause of misalignment. If you tense up your body too much while riding, then it results in your shoulders hunching up to your ears. This creates tension on your shoulder blades and surrounding muscles. The tension keeps building up and is expressed as neck pain.
Additionally, a lot of cyclists have the habit of looking forward with their whole head, instead of just the eyes. Lifting your head up this way puts a lot of stress on your neck, which can develop into neck pain.
The first step is to do a bike fitting. Merely adjusting the height of the saddle won’t help – you have to pay attention to the bar spacers, and handlebar drops also.
The second step is to fix your form. Notice whether you hold your head out of alignment while riding. Always roll your shoulders back when you realize your shoulders have tensed up and crept up to your ears. You can use a foam roller to massage out any knots that may have formed in your shoulders and upper back to start afresh!
2. Shoulder Pain
Your neck and shoulders are jointly responsible for supporting your head while cycling. Shoulders are capable of taking a lot of stress, and they generally exhibit pain only when matters have gotten really serious. If you are experiencing shoulder pain, chances are that it’s a long-term issue which you need to address before you start cycling again.
The primary causes for shoulder pain is a poor bike fit and the habit of hunching one’s shoulders up while cycling. The former causes you to overextend your neck, which stresses your shoulders, while the latter creates tons of tension in your shoulder blades.
The first step is to do a bike fitting (if you can invest in a professional one, it’s better), followed by remediating the damage that’s already been done. Massage out any knotted muscle tissues in your shoulders which might have formed due to cumulative stress loads. You can use a foam roller, and if this still doesn’t work, you can try out some stress building exercises to train your shoulders to handle greater stress.
3. Hand Pain
Hands are one of the most important contact points between your bike and your body. You’d be glad to know that that hand pain can be solved by doing just a few changes in your bike setup!
Hand pain is mostly caused due to the pinching of the median and ulnar nerves in your hands and wrists. It usually occurs if you rest too much of your upper body weight on the handlebars instead of resting it lightly. Another cause for this problem is over gripping of handlebars. It can happen due to an uncomfortable handlebar grip or poor form. Hand pain can elevate if you ride on rough roads that cause excess road vibrations in your bike.
Try fixing your handlebar set up, by raising or lowering it, which can help redistribute pressure evenly. This will make you rest lightly on them. You can try swapping your current set for a new one – with better grips. This can eliminate the habit of over-gripping. You can also get a pair of cycling gloves, a new bar tape, or invest in carbon fork or carbon handlebars to battle vibration!
Read our article: Balanced nutrition for cyclists
4. Wrist Pain
Wrist pain is the most common cycling pain and usually not a cause of concern. However, if you’re facing it in every bicycle ride – be it long or short, then it may be serious.
The most common cause is an incorrect height difference between the saddle and handlebars of your bike, which affects the angle at which you rest your wrists on the handlebars. It also affects the amount of weight you rest through your hands. Also, if your shifters are misaligned with your hands, then it can force you to twist and turn your wrists with every gear change, which can cause wrist pain.
Adjusting the height of your seat and handlebars can significantly reduce the amount of weight that you transfer onto your hands while cycling. Cyclists are prone to suffer from handlebar palsy. It happens when your wrist nerve has been pinched for a long time, which gives rise to wrist pain. Wearing a cycling glove can disperse the pressure, keeping your wrist safe.You can also invest a splint-like setup which can prevent you from overextending them. You can use a bar tape or upgrade to a carbon fork to dampen vibrations as well.
Read our article: 15 Ways to cycle safely
5. Fingers Pain
Finger pains are not common, but if you suffer from them then it can be dangerous, especially while changing gears or using the brake levers.
The primary cause of finger pains is the pinching of nerves. Your thumb, index, and middle fingers ache when the median nerve is pinched. This happens when your handlebars are too low and the seat is too high. The pinching of the ulnar nerve causes the pinky and ring fingers to ache, which happens if you rest your hands too heavily on the handlebars. This usually occurs when the handlebars are angled too far down.
Fix the height of your handlebars and seat. Another option is to ride at a high tire pressure by letting some air out of your tire. Doing so increases the impact of bumps in the road on your palms and wrists instead of your fingers. You can also invest in a thicker bar tap or padded cycling gloves to reduce pinching of the ulnar nerve.
6. Back Pain
Around 45% of pro cyclists complain of back pain. Just because it is an exceedingly common cycling pain, doesn’t mean that you should be negligent towards it.
The problem usually occurs when the handlebars are placed too low which causes you to stretch out too far to reach them. This can also happen if your seat is too far back or if you have too few stem spacers.
Also, if you have poor core strength, then your body will have trouble supporting your back whenever you lean forward while riding. It also happens if you have inflexible hips, which forces you to flex your back more than what’s considered healthy.
Back pain usually occurs due to a poor fit. You can invest in a professional bike fitting or even do it on your own! This alone shall take your back pain away in 90% cases. If it still persists, you can do a couple of core exercises to strengthen your core and improve your flexibility.
Try out exercises that target your abdominal muscles, lower back muscles, and glutes – because all three support your back while bicycling. Also, try to correct your posture whenever you find yourself slouching too much or hunching, on or off the bike.
Stand up and down, move around, and stretch your back from time to time while riding. Small changes can go a long way.
7. Bottom/Rear Pain
Bottom or rear pain usually takes cyclists by surprise. Unlike others, it does not build up slowly.
Pressure and chafing caused due to sitting on the saddle for a prolonged period of time is the main cause for rear pain. Most of your body weight is concentrated on the saddle, and bumpy roads affect your sit-bones, which can elevate this pain further.
Chafing occurs due to the friction caused by the rubbing of your bottom and the inner thighs across the saddle while bicycling. Especially on humid days, the sweat trapped in your shorts can make the rubbed areas sting.
First, you have to find a saddle that suits you. Saddles are of various types such as noseless, suspension, padded, and so forth, based on the type of riding and position. Buying a pair of good pair of bike shorts can also help prevent rubbing and chafing.
If you’re prone to chafing, you can look for shorts that are designed for endurance cycling, as they have the thickest pads. You can also apply lubricant to your rear and inner thighs to reduce chafing.
8. Hip Pain
The hip is a joint area, where the person’s lower body connects to the leg bones. Pain here is common as hips are connected to a number of muscles and joints. So, it sometimes gets hard to identify the root source/cause.
Overuse and muscle imbalance of the upper thighs are the major causes of hip pain. The glutes are particularly susceptible to imbalance, as they are the most used muscles during cycling.
Having weak piriformis muscles and tight hip flexors can also contribute to hip pain. Also, if you have your saddle that is too high then your body has to constantly move back and forth to help your feet reach the bottom of the pedal stroke which can give rise to hip aches.
Perform exercises to strengthen your glutes and piriformis muscles to prevent hip pain. You can also use a foam roller to smoothen out the hip flexors, and an upper iliotibial band.
Both of these can relieve built-up tension around your hips. Having a proper seat height and fit is also crucial to prevent hip pain, so you might want to invest in a professional bike fitting.
9. Thigh Pain
Most cyclists tend to neglect thigh pain thinking that burning quads and chafing are a part of the sport, but they can actually pose a serious threat to your body. Especially if you feel severe thigh pain after a bicycle ride, it’s better to address it as soon as possible.
Thighs consist of quads and iliotibial bands (a fibrous band of connective tissue that stretches from your hip to your knee). When this band gets inflamed, it causes pain in your thigh. It usually occurs if your thighs rub too much against each other while cycling.
Make sure that your bike’s seat is not too high, as this can cause your legs to overstretch while pedaling, thus straining your iliotibial band. If you do have thigh pain, gently massage and apply ice to the inflamed area to relieve the pain.
Also, make it a habit to perform stretch exercises before and after your ride. This keeps your thigh muscles flexible.
10. Knee Pain
Around 65% of cyclists claim to suffer from knee pain. Knee pain is one of the most common cycling pains, but also one of the most difficult ones to solve. We’ve listed some of the causes and cures, but if it still doesn’t go away, it’s advisable to consult an orthopedist.
The most common culprit for knee pain is the saddle height. If your saddle is too high or too low, then it can cramp your knee at the top of your pedal stroke. This can affect the cartilage under the kneecap.
Also, if you sit too far back or have to overextend your knee then it can cause knee pain as well. If your feet are too far apart or close together on the pedals, then it can cause a misalignment of the knee with your feet. This causes pain on the inside and outside of your knee.
Knee pains usually arise from misalignment problems, so getting a bike fitting can solve it. To fix the pain on the front or back of the knee, you should fix your saddle position. Ideally, your saddle should be fixed in such a way that your knee bends at 25-degree at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
Also, if you have pain on the sides of the knee, you must check the cleat position. It should be set such that your foot is directly under your knee while pedaling. There should not be any lateral splay as it increases the pain on the joint.
Read our article: Top 5 ways and tips for bike fitting
11. Achilles Tendons Pain
Achilles is a long tendon that connects the calf to your heel. Achilles pain mostly occurs near your upper heel and lowermost calf muscle. However, the degree of pain varies from person to person. If you have severe pain, chances are that there is a partial or full tear in your Achilles tendon.
Achilles pain usually occurs when you overuse your calf muscles. If you ride too long or too hard after a period of not riding much, then it can cause your Achilles tendons to ache. Uphill rides are especially dangerous for your Achilles, as it causes too much strain on your calf muscles which can result in inflammation.
If you have your feet too far forward which makes them bend outward during the downstroke, or a seat too high that forces your calf and heel to overstretch while pedaling, then it can cause pain in your Achilles.
Fixing your cleat position and seat height can help in getting rid of the Achilles pain. To make your lower calves more flexible, stretch your calf muscles before and after every ride. This can mitigate the pain to a great extent.
Massage a foam roller gently over your calf muscles to improve flexibility, especially the place where the tendon begins to wrap over the heel. If you have Achilles pain, continuing to cycle will only elevate it.
Instead, try heel raises, stretch your calves gently yet frequently, and apply ice to the heel area. You can also try using heel lifts and shoes to prevent overextending your calf muscles.
12. Ankle Pain
Ankle pain isn’t that frequent among cyclists. However, if you do have one, it can be exceptionally problematic while riding uphill – causing a sharp sting or a dull ache while you climb.
If your feet have to stretch too far to push the pedals, then it might cause pain in your ankles. If you rotate your feet too much while pedaling, it can cause a misalignment between your feet and the lower leg. This piles up a lot of stress on the ankles with each pedal stroke.
Applying ice and anti-inflammatories can help to ease the pain. Check the placement of your feet on the pedals while cycling, or your cleat position – chances are they aren’t positioned properly and are thus contributing to the pain. Always make sure that the balls of your feet apply pressure on the pedals, and not the midfoot.
13. Foot Pain
Foot pain starts out slowly, like numbness or tingling sensations before progressing into severe pain.
Foot pain is almost always caused due to pinching of the nerves around the toes. Foot pain due to cycling can also occur if you apply too much pressure while pushing your pedals up and down repeatedly during your rides. The longer you ride, the more your feet swell due to increasing pressure against the nerves.
Try loosening the straps of your shoes or wearing a thinner pair of socks. This reduces the pressure on the pinched nerves. You can also invest in a pair of insoles that are specifically designed to help you spread out your toes to relieve the nerves. A new pair of shoes might do the trick of reducing the pain too. Just make sure to buy the perfect size for your feet; ones that are wide.
Read our article: Steadfast Carborance Cyclop Review
14. Muscle Pain
The most common cycling pain is muscle soreness. Let’s see the causes and cure of severe muscle soreness, and how to avoid them altogether.
Muscle soreness/ pain occurs due to various reasons – poor nutrition, riding at a high intensity or cycling too long, and so forth. However, the main problem is poor nutrition. You need to fuel your body properly so that it can endure hard and long bicycle rides. If you ignore muscle soreness and keep training hard whatsoever, you’ll increase the chances of muscle depletion.
During bicycle rides, keep a constant intake of 30-60 gm of carbohydrate every hour, along with at least one liter of water. Increase the intake of proteins as the amino acids present in them can help your muscles rebuild fibers. Also, try to take a mix of healthy fats, carbohydrates, and proteins in the first hour after your ride to keep your body sufficiently fuelled.
The most common reason for any cycling pain is a poor bike fit, so make sure to do a proper bike fitting. Bike fitting alone can solve almost 90% of your problems. Apart from that, take care of your body and follow a fulfilling diet, and you shall be good to go!