Cyclists: How You Can Avoid Injury, Treat Pain When It Happens

Expert tips from a certified athletic trainer

Contributor: Manny Economos, AT, certified athletic trainer

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Cycling earns high marks as a low-impact sport. However, as with all forms of exercise, there is a potential for injuries, particularly if you’re using improper technique, an ill-fitted bike, or you push yourself to do too much, too soon.

Here are tips that can help you avoid injury while cycling — and what to do if you should get injured.

Proper technique:  Make your bike riding a little easier by shifting down. Don’t mash big gears because it may cause overuse injuries to the knees. Riding a bike properly should feel like you can spin easily. Biking is an aerobic workout, and a workout that shouldn’t injure the cartilage in your knees. Consider whether changing your bicycle, seat or pedals could help your technique.

Proper fit: Your knees also will benefit from accurate bike fit. A saddle set too low will result in pain in the front of the knees; one propped too high can cause excessive hamstring stretching and pain in the back of the knees. Fit for performance, fit for comfort and fit for injury treatment may mean different adjustments to your bike.

Proper routine: If you’re new to cycling, or just starting out for the season, start with reasonable mileage, and don’t increase it by more than 10 percent each week. Change your position often, and wear padded shorts and gloves.

Start a conditioning program: As an athletic trainer the first thing I will tell any athlete – elite level or weekend warrior — is that to avoid injury, you must start with a well-structured strength and conditioning program. Athletes who are strong and in good physical condition are less likely get injured.

Know your body: Athletes must also know their bodies and injury history. If you have a chronic condition, you might need to wear a brace. This should be done in conjunction with exercises to strengthen a weakened area. If you do get injured, reduce the frequency/intensity before your symptoms get worse. Give your body time to rest and recover between cycling sessions.

Advertising Policy

See your doctor once a year: It’s a good idea to see your general practitioner or family doctor at least once a year. A thorough medical screen can pick up on any deficiencies, weaknesses, or undiscovered injuries.

Treatment for your injuries

If you do get injured when cycling, it’s important to be aware of what is happening to the specific body part that is injured.

Inflammation will occur almost immediately. The signs of this include redness, warmth, swelling and pain.

With short-term, or acute, injuries, pain is typically more stabbing and sharp and the injured area will throb. With long-term, or chronic, injuries, the pain typically is dull and will increase if the injured area is overused or gets aggravated.

Treatment of acute injuries typically involves RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation.

This common practice is under debate among medical professionals. However, it never hurts to rest an injured body part if it is too painful to use.

If you are in quite a bit of pain, ice can ease it. If swelling lasts more than a day, then elevation and compression can help.

Advertising Policy

An over-the-counter non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen can be used early on to help with pain and swelling but should be monitored in younger athletes. NSAIDs should be taken with food to avoid any complications.

When pain is over

Once your pain begins to decrease, you can increase your activity accordingly.

Typically, you can start with range of motion exercises, then move on to light strengthening followed by more demanding exercise to bring the injured body part back to its normal state.

Consider using braces or taping to support the injured area when you return to cycling.

With all injuries — chronic and acute — rest is often the best course of treatment. It is always better to be safe than sorry regarding the return to activity.

Advertising Policy