While cycling has long been a popular past time for people looking to exercise and spend time outside, the sport has recently taken on new life with an ever increasing number of Americans turning to cycling as a means of transportation. With the introduction of bicycle lanes in numerous big cities, cycling has become not just a leisure activity but a primary means for commuting.
From extreme athletes to daily commuters, cyclists can experience a variety of injuries that are either acute (occur suddenly) or occur as a result of overuse or repetitive motions. The most common areas of the body to be affected by cycling injuries are the head, neck and back, upper extremity, knees, groin and buttock. Making sure that a bicycle is properly fit for the rider is one way to help avoid injury, but injuries can still occur due to the nature of the activity.
A medical professional specifically trained in the treatment of sports-related injuries, like a sports physical therapist, should be consulted to properly diagnose a cycling injury and determine the best course of treatment.
- Riding a bicycle that is not properly fit to the rider.
- Using a helmet that does not properly fit the rider
- Keeping the elbows locked instead of slightly flexed.
- Not changing hand position for the duration of a ride.
- Staying on the “drops” for extended periods of time.
- Riding at too high a gear ratio and/or too high a revolution per minute (RPM).
- Overuse from riding too long or over terrain that is too difficult.
- Being struck by another vehicle including other bicycles and cars.
There are intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors for injury. Intrinsic factors are a person’s individual musculoskeletal issues, which can include skeletal immaturity (bones and joints that are still developing) or muscle weakness. Extrinsic factors are the environment in which an athlete performs, which can include the level of competition: how much, how hard and how long play lasts.
Other common risk factors for cycling injuries include
- Poor warm-up
- Poor fitting equipment including bike and shoes
- Poor conditioning
- Poor technique
- Not wearing a helmet
- Riding at too high a level
- Not obeying traffic laws and regulations
- Inexperience riding with other bikers
Prevention and Performance
The best way to avoid cycling injuries is to make sure that the bicycle is proper for the rider. There are different weights and sizes of bicycle that should be considered when deciding which to ride. It is also important to obtain and use the proper safety equipment including a helmet, padded gloves, or padded shorts.
Other ways to avoid injury include:
• Changing hand position during a ride with avoidance of being on the “drops” for long periods of time.
• Stretching of the hip and thigh muscles can allow for a more comfortable ride.
• To avoid hand, wrist, and/or forearm injury do not allow the wrist to drop below the handlebar.
• Wearing padded gloves as well as stretching the hands and wrists before riding can reduce the risk of upper extremity injuries.
• Adhere to traffic laws including riding with traffic and in single file through areas that have a heavy volume of motor vehicles.
• Ride with riders at a similar experience and fitness level too avoid rides that are too long, hard, and/or intense.
• Did you know that the majority of states do not have laws requiring cyclists to wear a helmet? Studies have shown an 85% decrease in the risk of head injury when wearing a helmet while cycling.
• Did you know that when riding a bike your elbows should be slightly flexed? Having the elbows flexed will allow the upper extremities to act as shock absorbers to decrease the stresses on your body.
• Did you know there is risk involved in riding with other bikers? The risk is minimized by communicating with other riders in the group regarding road conditions ahead and warning of upcoming turns and other changes in direction. Also spacing between riders should correspond with the amount of experience the riders have riding in a group. More experienced group riders will be able to minimize the spacing between bikes. Less experienced riders should increase their spacing to decrease the risk of collisions with other riders in the group.
• Did you know that wearing padded cycling shorts the risk of urogenital injury is decreased? A wider seat that is padded and tilted for comfort can also help a male rider avoid or minimize this common biking problem.
• Did you know that foot numbness and tingling are common problems associated with cycling? Cycling requires properly fitting equipment including footwear and pedals in order to ride with comfort.