How to avoid injury if you've taken up cycling in lockdown

How to avoid injury if you’ve taken up cycling in lockdown: from investing in the right footwear to perfecting your saddle height (because just two millimetres too low is enough to cause pain)

  • Thousands of Britons have taken up cycling amid the coronavirus pandemic
  • Many plan to ride their bikes to work when they eventually return to the office
  • Victoria Joyce, sport physio and rehab tutor, shares tips for avoiding injuries
  • A former triathlete, she recommends adjusting saddle and handlebar height
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Thousands of Britons have taken up cycling amid the coronavirus pandemic, with many now planning on riding their bikes to work when they eventually return to the office. 

But if you’re new to pedalling or returning to it after a long break, you may be experiencing some unwanted aches and pains in your wrist, knee, back, pelvis or feet as a result of your lockdown hobby.

According to Victoria Joyce, a former triathlete and clinical tutor in sport physiotherapy and rehabilitation at Liverpool Hope University, having the saddle in the wrong position by just two millimetres is all it takes to sustain an injury.

She told FEMAIL: ‘Cycling is a fantastic way to keep fit. It’s particularly great for those with arthritis, as it reduces the amount of load through particular joints compared with running and walking activities. You’re off-loading the joints and getting them moving in a nice controlled manner. Furthermore, it’s great for your mind because you’re spending time outdoors.

‘Because of Covid-19, people might not have been on their bikes for a long time, or they might be brand new to cycling. And when they jump on the bike people may experience some aches, pains and sores. Thankfully these can be avoided with the right precautions.’

Here Victoria reveals her top tips and posture-related hacks or staying injury free – and the tell-tale signs that something is wrong.  

Thousands of Britons have taken up cycling amid the coronavirus pandemic, with many now planning on riding their bikes to work when they eventually return to the office. Pictured: stock image

Get the seat height right

The most important thing in terms of injury prevention on a bike is the set-up – and this starts with getting the saddle height correct, whether it’s an old bike or a brand new one. 

Victoria said: ‘Find somewhere you’re able to sit on the bike and for it to be free on its own two wheels – perhaps while you’re holding on to a wall or table, or ask someone to assist you. 

‘Sit on the saddle and put your heel so it’s at six o’clock to the seat, and your leg locked out, fully straight. You then put your foot where it would naturally be while pedalling the bike – for example, with the ball of your foot. 

‘You’ll find you should now have a “soft” knee in this position, with not too much knee bend and which isn’t fully locked out. That’s the optimum riding position in terms of ergonomics. You may have to gradually adjust the seat until it feels comfortable for you.’  

Just two millimetres is all it takes to get injured

Victoria warned: ‘Cyclists need to be aware that the shoes they wear might actually have a bearing on the saddle height. 

‘I’d recommend trying to wear the same equipment all the time. If you’ve got a pair of trainers with quite a thick sole, you might need to adjust your seat height by a couple of millimetres to compensate. 

‘Don’t adjust your seat height in bare feet of socks, because again this might have an effect. 

‘A couple of millimetres might not sound like a lot but it could actually be the difference between staying fit and picking up an overuse injury.’ 

Protect the pelvis

‘If the saddle isn’t at the right height for your pelvis, it creates rocking and tilting of the hips, and an increased knee flexion, which can irritate the patellofemoral (PF) area right at the front of the knee,’ Victoria explained. 

‘The PF joint may become irritated if the knee is in an increased flexed (bent) position. 

‘Rocking of the pelvis can lead to something called greater trochanter bursitis’ The bursas are fluid filled sacs on the side of the pelvis that get irritated and inflamed due to the incorrect position and additional movement of the pelvis. 

‘Another issue is pudendal neuralgia, long term pain in the pelvis caused by irritation to the pudendal nerve – the main nerve of the perineum.’

Invest in cycle shorts 

Whether you’re a man or a woman there’s no getting away from increased sensitivity in your ‘undercarriage’ as a result of cycling.

Victoria said: ‘Because of the position you’re in when you’re cycling, you can get some perineal irritation, and that goes for both genders. 

‘That might manifest as a burning sensation in the groin area. You can also suffer neurological conditions, particularly men, from being in the saddle for too long. 

‘You might have pain in what’s known as the ischial tuberosity – the bony bit of your bottom. For everyday riders, you should be okay if you get the seat position correct, but it’s wise to be aware of the issues. 

‘Cycle shorts will help, anti-chafing lubrications can have you feeling more comfortable, and some specific saddles have a hole cut out design to aid with off-loading this sensitive area.’

Supportive footwear 

If you’re experiencing pain, numbness or tingling in your toes, if could be as a result of putting too much pressure on the metatarsalgia – a neurological pathway under your foot.

‘It might be caused by uncomfortable trainers, foot position, or your seat being at the incorrect height,’ Victoria said.

‘Another injury may be plantar fasciitis – this would manifest as pain under the foot arch. 

‘Adjustment of the saddle height and supportive footwear may help to support the foot’s structure during the “pushing” phase of pedalling.’

Are your legs spinning too fast? 

You should, ideally, be looking to average around 60 revolutions of the crank per minute, according to Victoria. 

‘That’s a good cadence to keep,’ she said. ‘Having too high a cadence means your legs are moving too quickly. It’s just not efficient and can lead to overuse injuries.

‘If you’ve got the saddle too low, you’re more than likely going to get irritation at the knee, as the knee is bending too much on high repetition.’ 

Get the handlebars in the right position

You don’t need to go out and spend lots of money on a bike – but you do need one which is suitable for what you’re using it for. 

Victoria advised: ‘Don’t go and buy a downhill mountain bike if you’re only commuting to and from work. It’s not going to be ergogenic and efficient. 

‘One of the main factors is getting the hand position set-up correct. For a standard cyclist, the bars should be about level with the seat. This will vary from individual to individual and to what bike you will be riding. 

‘Racers might end up with their bars around 5cm lower than their saddle – but if the hand position is too low, you may develop upper limb and back injuries.  

‘Increase in compression over the wrist, for example, may lead to injuries which affect the neurological pathways going through the hands and which might manifest as numbness in the fingers.’

Plan your route – with rest stops

If you’re going out for a ride, make sure you plan your route so you know where the big hills are and where you can stop to take a rest.

This preparation, according to Victoria, helps you to pace yourself and to ultimately avoid overuse injuries. 

‘Don’t be afraid to stop for a rest,’ she added. ‘I think a lot of the time people are too hard on themselves. Ride to the weather, too. 

‘It’s not just dehydration you need to be careful about, you need to be wary of sunburn and sunstroke. Because of the wind-chill on a bike, you might not feel the effects of the sun until it’s too late. 

‘If you’re dehydrated, your musculoskeletal structures are also not going to be functioning as well as they should, leaving you open to injury. Think of the environment and how your body is going to be exposed to it.’     

Beware sciatica 

Another common injury among cyclists is sciatica – a pain that runs down the back and into the legs, and also causing pain in the pelvis area. 

‘It could be that you’re reaching too far forward, creating a compression of the neural pathy,’ Victoria observed. 

‘Again, re-evaluating your riding position may be warranted and if symptoms do not subside, seek professional advice.’

Don’t overdo it

If you’re planning to use your bike to commute to work, don’t overdo it. Victoria recommended loading the body systems gradually. 

‘If you’ve not cycled for years, don’t expect to be cycling every day,’ she said. 

‘Set out achievable goals, which you will maintain. If not this is how people become injured and then stop cycling all together. 

‘It’s down to the individual as to frequency of exercise recommendations, but in general terms, progression and load needs to be gradual so the body can adapt. Importantly, you need to enjoy it!’

Don’t ignore continual pain

Victoria said it’s normal to have delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as you commence your new activity regime. 

But there’s a difference between DOMS and an injury. She said: ‘If soreness persists, always seek professional advice or medical attention. 

‘A lot of overuse injuries are down to mechanical movements. A specialist can recognise this and the symptoms will resolve. But it’s a lot harder to unpick a chronic injury than it is if you nip it in the bud quickly. 

‘The important thing is to be seen, be safe and enjoy being out on your bike and keeping active.’

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