Although some injuries are impossible to avoid, there are some things every cyclist can do to prevent injuries. Here is a list of the six that are most common and what you can do to avoid them.
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Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury caused by inflammation. This injury is not to be confused with Achilles tendon rupture, which is a much more painful and sudden injury that requires immediate medical attention. Other causes of Achilles tendonitis are poor bike fit and improper position of shoe cleats.
Tip: Back off your training and use ice to calm down the inflammation. Ibuprofen is also recommended for their anti-inflammatory properties. But for Ibuprofen to work, it must be present in your system for consecutive days. Taking it only when you have pain will not help with the inflammation.
If your injury isn’t from overuse, more than likely it has been caused by bike fit. Having your saddle too high keeps the foot plantarflexed (toe pointed down), causing constant contraction of the calf muscles.
Lowering your seat and making sure that your cleats aren’t pushed all the way forward towards the toe will help to even out what muscles you’re using to pedal. Allowing the foot to dorsiflex (toe pointed up) during the bottom portion of the pedal stroke can ease the tension on the Achilles, allowing the tendon to have needed periods of rest.
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Located just below the kneecap, tendonitis of the patellar tendon is usually caused by having a seat that is too low or from riding too long using big gears. Because of this, the gluteal muscles aren’t being utilized as well as they should be. As a result the quadriceps muscles become overworked and fatigued, leading to tendonitis in the tendon.
Tip: Try variation in your pedal cadence. While every cyclist has their preference, breaking up your training by pedaling in a high cadence (90-120 revolutions per minute) can help prevent injury if you do most of your riding in big gears. Increasing pedal cadence will develop your cardiovascular system too, which is another added benefit.
Raising the seat if it’s too low will also help to utilize more of the hamstring and gluteal muscles, taking some of the strain off of your quadriceps and the patella tendon. Pedal mashers use more of the quadriceps muscles rather than incorporating other of the body’s largest muscles groups used when pedaling in circles. Incorporate the quadriceps, the hamstrings and the gluteal muscles to avoid any one muscle group from becoming fatigued.
Broken Clavicle or Scaphoid
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These two bones are the most commonly broken during a crash. The clavicle (collarbone) and the scaphoid (carpal bone on the thumb side of the hand) are the weak points that absorb impact when the arm is extended to brace during a fall.
These injuries require immediate medical attention. It is common for a broken scaphoid to go overlooked because it is so small and the pain is not as debilitating. This can be dangerous, as blood supply to the thumb can be severely impaired, leading to avascular necrosis (death of the bone).
Tip: While a broken bone can’t always be avoided, the general tip when falling off your bike is to continue to hold onto the handlebars. This lets your entire body absorb the blow to the ground rather than just two bones in your outstretched arm. It can be instinctive to reach out with the hand, which is why these injuries occur so often. Remembering this tip might help to keep your hands on the bars where they belong, even during a spill.
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A saddle sore is a skin disorder caused by long hours in the saddle due to the friction of your sit bones against the seat. Old shorts and having your saddle too high are also common causes.
Tip: Lowering your saddle can prevent less side-to-side motion of the pelvis, which can cause excessive friction against the seat. If you’ve had a bike fit and your seat is at its proper height, using a chamois cream can help to ease the discomfort of your skin rubbing against the saddle, particularly if you move around on the seat a lot during long rides.
Make sure your bib shorts aren’t too old and are providing enough cushion from the insert can also help to prevent saddle sores from occurring. As with anything else, cycling shorts are a matter of preference. When you find a pair that works well for you, buy a few extra pairs and rotate them. It’ll make them last longer too.
Lower Back Pain
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Bike fit and long hours in an aggressive riding position are the major culprits leading to lower back pain from cycling. Excessive flexion in the lumbar region of the spine can lead to more serious conditions involving nerve entrapment and sciatica, which require medical attention.
Tip: A good core-strengthening regimen should be part of every cyclist’s routine, particularly in the off-season when less time training is spent on the bike. Cycling often over looks core muscles like the gluteus medius, the transverse abdominus and other smaller muscles surrounding the pelvis.
Because the spinal column inserts into the pelvic bone, having weak muscles can prevent cyclists from generating the kind of power from the core needed to sustain long efforts in an aggressive riding positions. This can lead to pain in the lower back by forcing supporting muscles to compensate for the weakness of others. Strengthening the core will help cyclists to maintain these riding positions for longer periods of time while also increasing balance and power.
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Pain in the neck often involves tightness or trigger points in the upper trapezious muscle, which begins at the base of the skull and runs along the sides of the neck to the shoulder. These muscles commonly become fatigued during cycling from having to hold the weight of the head in extension for long periods of time. Other causes of neck pain include bike fit and tensing the shoulder muscles while riding.
Tip: If your bike doesn’t fit you well, that will need to be addressed first. Shortening the stem and moving your seat forward will put you in a more upright position that might be more comfortable and allow for your cervical vertebrae to be in a more neutral position instead of full extension. However, it is probably a good idea to address these changes with a bike-fitting expert, since making major changes in position can lead to other unwanted injuries.
Loosening your grip on the handlebars may also help. Making a concerted effort to relax the shoulder muscles will reduce fatigue and keep the trapezious muscles from becoming tight.
It is also a good idea to incorporate neck and shoulder exercises to your strengthening routine in the offseason. Shoulder-shrugs, rows and chin tucks (stretching of the neck extensors) are good exercises to start with.
As with all injuries, if you are unsure of your ailment it is best to consult with a doctor if pain is severe or becomes worse with time. Be smart and listen to your body.
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