With the Tour de France in full swing, it’s peak cycling time for both committed hill-climbers and casual commuters, which also makes it peak cycling injury time. The benefits of cycling are manifold, but so are the dangers of injury. Here are the five most common complaints:
The Achilles tendon may be the strongest tendon in the body, but it can still be overloaded – for example if you’ve started cycling, are not ‘gearing’ properly, and so are putting too much pressure on it. Even the professionals are not immune from this, especially if they’re overdoing it on hill climbs.
For a lot of riders, a poor bike fit is usually the main culprit. If the saddle is too high, you’re in danger of over-stretching the calf muscles. If the frame of the bike is too big, you run the risk of over-extending your feet on climbs and putting them in a pointed downwards position, which leads to them having to put in extra work in the short term and inviting Achilles problems in the long term.
Here’s a very comprehensive guide to achieving the optimum bike fit and nipping any problems in the bud.
Essentially an inflammation underneath the kneecap, Patellar Tendonitis is a common complaint amongst runners. While your legs aren’t taking as much punishment in the saddle as they would on the track, it’s still possible to overwork the area while cycling – particularly if you’re overdoing it on the high gears whilst descending.
Again, this is usually a bike-setup problem, and in this case, it’s usually because your seat is too low. If your positioning is putting you too low in the saddle, the gluteal muscles are underutilised and the quads end up putting in overtime to compensate. And although the temptation to crank up the speed downhill is strong, it’s much wiser to use descent phases as a rest period.
Lower back pain
While you wouldn’t automatically assume that cycling would put excessive pressure upon the lower back, think again – while the bulk of your weight is being taken by the upper part of the body pressing down on the handlebars, the mechanics of cycling are putting you in a bent-over position for long periods of time, which can lead to nerve entrapment and sciatica.
Again, a correct bike fit can go a long way to avoiding this, along with an exercise regime focused on core strength of the lower back.
Upper trapezius pain
In layperson’s terms, this is a common-or-garden neck-ache, caused by the rider holding their head in the same position for long stretches of time, whilst tensing the shoulder muscles.
As with most muscle-related injuries, examining and correcting your bike fit is the first step towards reducing your chances of developing this ailment. Shorten the stem of your handlebars and move your saddle forward, so you’re in an upright position while cycling. It’s also worth bearing in mind that over-gripping the handlebars can cause neck tension – a habit you need to break as soon as possible.
Obviously, this is an extremely common injury, especially for riders in traffic. The most common bike accident involves the rider going over the handlebars, meaning that the bones most prone to damage are the clavicle (otherwise known as the collarbone) and the scaphoid (the outer bone on the thumb). Both will require immediate attention, especially the latter: although it seems a minor part of the body and the pain is relatively minor, there can be severe blood-flow impairments which could become very problematic.
If you’re unlucky enough to get into difficulty, you are advised to ignore your natural inclination to try to brace the fall with the hands, and keep hold of the handlebars, letting your body absorb the fall. The latter will usually result in road rash: the former will keep you out of the saddle for months.