How to Deal with Common Cycling Injuries
Cycling is a great low-impact sport that works many of the large muscle groups, however it is not without issues. One common ailment if not done correctly is neck pain. Neck pain is most often caused by neck hypertension, usually caused by the position of your body while riding and the lack of flexibility.
The Cause of Neck Pain
The main set of muscles that helps support your head are the deep neck flexors. If they become weak, then it is up to the trapezius muscles that run from the base of your skull to the shoulder to support your head. If the trapezius muscles become fatigued and can no longer work to support your head, it shows up as neck pain.
To relieve neck pain for the long-term, it is necessary to strengthen the deep neck flexors so the trapezius doesn’t have to work so hard. To do this, lie on the floor on your back with the back of your head touching the floor. With knees bent, focus your eyes (without moving your head yet) on a point just above your knees. Now slowly start to move your head (without raising your head off of the ground) to the point where your eyes are focused – much like a slow nodding gesture. Hold the head downward stretch for 5-10 seconds; then return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times per day.
Stretch Before and After Riding
To help keep the neck muscles strong, perform some stretching before and after each ride – much like warming up and cooling down before and after other forms of exercising. To stretch the neck, perform a range-of-motion exercises by:
• moving your head up and down as in a nodding motion.
• Rotating your head side to side ensuring you are twisting it as far as it will go both left and right.
• Tilting your head so that your right ear touches your right shoulder. Do the same with your left ear.
Do these three exercises until your neck muscles feel loose.
The position of your head and neck can contribute to having neck pain. Try to maintain a straight line from your hips to your head. If your head is too far forward, it puts strain on your neck muscles trying to support it.
If your handlebars are too low, so that you have to tilt your head up to see, try turning your handlebars over so they end up being higher up. This will allow you to see without causing excessive strain on your neck. If that doesn’t work, you may have to get a longer handlebar stem.
By riding in the correct position, stretching before and after riding, and building up the deep neck flexor muscles, you should have very little, if any, neck pain. If after doing these steps neck pain persists, see your healthcare professional to search out other causes of your neck pain.
More About Healthy Cycling Posture Guide
Regardless of whether you use your bike to train for a race, out for a family ride, as a form of cardio exercise or as a mode of transportation to work, having the proper posture while cycling is important in preventing injury. There are basically two causes of improper posture. Either the bike is not right for you, or you are not using the right bike correctly.
Bikes come in different frame sizes. Your body frame determines which bike frame is right for you. For example, if you can’t reach the handlebars without fully extending your arms, you may need a smaller bike frame or a shorter handlebar stem. A seat that is not adjusted to the correct height can cause knee pain. Improper posture usually causes pain in the arms/hands, back, neck or knees.
Arms and Hands
When riding, arms should have a slight bend in them. This not only prevents fatigue during a ride, but also serves as a shock absorber so jarring doesn’t transmit up your arms and into the rest of your body. Also how you grip the handlebars is important. If you constantly grip them too tight, your hands may start to get numb. All you need it enough pressure to maintain control and still be able to reach the brake levers.
To prevent back problems from riding, be sure to keep your back as straight as possible. This does not mean setting up straight as you would if sitting at a desk, but instead, keeping your hips to your shoulders in a mostly straight line. Engage the abdominal muscles to help keep the straight-line form.
To prevent neck problems keep your head up as part of the straight-line form from your hips to your shoulders. By allowing your head to drop, you are putting excessive strain on the base of the neck.
When riding, the knees go through the continuous repetitive motion of going up and down. Because of this motion, it is important to have them at the correct position. When at the top of the pedal rotation, the leg should be bent at a 90 degree angle with the knee directly over the pedal. At the bottom of the rotation, the leg should still have 20 to 30 degrees before it is fully extended.
Correct form should include the knees pointing straight forward and parallel with each other. Most improper knee form can be adjusted by selecting the correct seat height and angle.
Riding bike can be fun or it can be a pain (no pun intended). By matching your bike to you and riding it properly, you can enjoy years of safe riding. If unsure of how to match a bike to you, see your local bike shop.
How to Properly Warm Up for a Bike Ride
With any type of exercise, it is important to warm up the muscles you are going to use. By doing so, the risk of an injury is greatly reduced. Warming up before a bike ride usually involves two steps, some cardio training and then dynamic stretching.
Cardio exercising not only warms up the muscles you are going to use when biking, but it also gets your heart rate up and your breathing faster. All it takes is a 30-minute spin on your bike or so, depending on the type of ride you plan on doing. As an alternative to biking, you could jog instead.
For example if you plan on riding a road race of 60 miles or less, start out at a 10 to 15-minute easy pace, then switch it up to five 1 to 2-minute bursts at an 85% pace. Rest for 2 to 3 minutes between each burst. Finish warming up with an easy five-minute ride.
This type of stretching involves movement, verses static stretching which does not, and helps warms up muscles, ligaments and joints. Perform stretching exercises that target the lower major muscle groups that are used during biking, like the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps, calves and back muscles. For example lunges, butterflies and single leg pulls loosens up the hip flexors.
Lunges – Start by taking a step forward so that your front knee is bent over your front foot, and your back leg is fully extended behind you. The top of your back foot should be flat on the floor. Keeping your back straight, gently press your hips forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your groin/hip area. Hold, but continue to move your hips forward as you feel they progressively relax. Move your hips back and push yourself back to the upright starting position. Repeat using the other leg.
Butterflies – Sit on the floor with your back straight, the soles of your feet pressed together and your knees dropped to either side. Holding onto your feet, brace your abs and keep your back straight as you drop your torso forward and feel the stretch throughout your inner thighs and outer hips. Move back to the starting position.
Single Leg Pulls – Lie on your back with your legs straight. Raise both legs until they are perpendicular to your body. Hold your left leg in the upright position while slowly lowering your right leg until it is stretched out straight and touching the floor. Hold in this position for a couple of seconds. Now bring your right leg up again and repeat using the opposite leg.
After exercising, perform stretches that target muscles in the above muscle groups by holding the stretch in the extended position for a few seconds. Perform as many repetitions as necessary until the muscle feels relaxed.