Rubber Side Down: Dealing with Cycling Injuries

Ye Olde Bicycle Tumble. This man must not read my column.

Today I’m going to give you some advice that I wish none of you ever have to use. I want to share with you some tips on How to Prevent and Overcome Cycling Injuries. In a perfect world, riding your bike everyday for months and years on end would never cause any physiological problems and we’d all have the fitness of a Tour de France winner. As long as we’re dreaming, I’ll take extra podium girls and hold the emaciated torso please. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. We live in the wonderful real world where cycling is hard and injury happens. After all, if it was easy everyone would do it right? And then I’d have even less of a chance of making it pro than my current zero chance of making it pro. My ego just can’t take it!

As I write this, two of my co-workers have broken collar bones and I am currently recovering from an overuse injury. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say injury is normal. If you’re equal parts smart and lucky, injury shouldn’t happen often, but, whether it’s from overtraining, poor bike fit or a fall, this amazing sport is bound to break us at one point or another. All we can do is deal with it.

I want to share with you some tips that will aid you in your attempts to stave off injury as long as possible and teach you to overcome those aches and pains when the cycling deities finally call your number. Read on, take notes and and get back on the bike as fast as possible.

Top 5 Most Common Cycling Injuries

  1. Achilles Tendinitis: Inflammation of the achilles tendon due to overuse, a seat height that is too high or your cleats positioned too far forward.
  2. Patellar Tendinitis: This is the injury that I have just about licked. Inflammation of the patellar tendon occurs when your seat height is too low or when you push too big of a gear for too long. (Likely cause: doing a boatload of climbing with a standard crank and an 11-25. Oops!)
  3. Saddle Sores: A skin irritation caused by long hours in the saddle, old cycling shorts, or a saddle height that is too high. Chamois cream is a great way to minimize this pain.
  4. Lower back pain: Pain in the lower back can be caused by improper bike fit, long hours in a new, or unnatural, position or improper form.
  5. Neck pain: Neck pain can also be attributed to an improper fit or the long hours of holding your neck in a fixed position. Your head is actually rather heavy and if your neck muscles aren’t strong, pain is often the result.
Honorable Mention. Broken Collar Bone: The collar bone is one of the most likely bones to break in the event of a bicycle crash because it is usually the weakest link when a rider puts an arm out to brace for impact. Even though it seems counterintuitive, try to keep your hands on the bars if you go down.

Luckily Mark had the Lululemon gals to ease the pain from his broken collar bone. I don’t feel bad for him at all.

Preventing Cycling Injuries

  • Train Smart: Don’t make the same mistake that I did and try to do too much, too fast. Think quality over quantity and slowly ramp up your mileage throughout the season. It’s a good idea to take a day off each week to recover from the hard work you’ve put in.
  • Bike Fit: You might have the right size frame but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Improper bike fit can lead to a whole host of problems even more extensive than the list above. Go to your local bike shop and get a professional bike fit or check out the links to our learning center below to set yourself up for a pain free ride.
  • Recover Right: Stretching and massage are two of the most important ways to recover from a ride. Be sure to stretch your hamstrings, gluts, hip flexors and quads to increase flexibility and reduce your chance of injury. This increased flexibility will also allow you get in a better position, improve your posture and produce more power on the bike. Foam rollers and other recovery tools help you massage and stretch your muscles correctly.
  • Strengthen Your Core: Having a strong core is a great way to prevent lower back pain. Check out the first episode of our video series Cross Training for Cyclists to learn how to do a plank and whip that weak mid section into shape.
  • Wear a helmet! Putting on a helmet should be second nature when you jump on a bike and I shouldn’t even need to remind you. If you like your head, protect it.

Overcoming Cycling Injuries

  • Decrease Training Volume: Overuse causes fatigue and fatigue causes injury. When this happens, give your body a break instead of trying to power through the pain. Cyclists are famous for being able to “grin and bear it” but there is a fine line between being tough and being stupid. There is no harm in taking a couple days off.
  • Put Ice On It: If you are suffering from achilles tendinitis or patellar tendinitis, icing the affected area 2 to 3 times a day is a great way to ease the pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Medicate: Take Ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory in small doses for multiple days in a row. The drug needs to have a consistent presence in your system to be effective at reducing the inflammation.
  • Cross train: Try a lower impact form of exercise like swimming or using the elliptical at the gym while you are overcoming your cycling-related injury. Changing up your workout for a while will activate different muscle groups and maintain your cardiovascular fitness while you recover.
  • Now that you beat the pain, go get a bike fit to keep it from coming back!

Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor Jerald Westendorf is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.