Like any sport or physical activity, cycling comes with the risk of injuries. With the proper training, technique, and prevention, you can avoid many cycling-related injuries. In this guide, we’ll cover some of the most common cycling injuries as well as how to prevent and treat them so you can keep riding.
As always, consult your doctor first when injured. We’re a team of avid and experienced cyclists, but we aren’t physicians. We’ve provided preventative tips and treatment that we’ve learned to be effective through research and experience, but your doctor is the best person to help you determine the underlying cause of your pain and provide you with a specific treatment plan.
How do cycling injuries happen?
Cycling injuries can result from a variety of factors, including your position in the saddle and riding techniques, environmental conditions, road or trail hazards, and collisions. Here are some of the most common causes of cycling injuries.
Improper Bike Fit
Proper bike fit is one of the most important ways to minimize cycling injuries. An improper bike fit can lead to various cycling-related injuries, including knee pain, back pain, and saddle sores. A properly sized bike helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries by ensuring that your body’s biomechanics are well-aligned with the bike.
Accidents involving collisions with cars, pedestrians, or other cyclists can result in a wide range of injuries, from minor cuts and bruises to more severe trauma. Failure to wear or outfit your bike with the proper safety equipment can make these collisions even more dangerous.
Speed and reckless riding
Riding at excessive speeds or engaging in reckless behavior, such as running red lights or stop signs, can lead to accidents and collisions with other road users.
Adverse weather conditions, such as rain, snow, ice, or strong winds, can make cycling more hazardous by reducing traction and visibility.
Unsafe Road Conditions
Potholes, debris, gravel, and poorly maintained roads or bike lanes can lead to accidents and injuries. You may lose control or be thrown off your bike when cycling on hazardous roads.
Overexertion occurs when you push your body beyond its current limits during a single workout or ride. This can lead to immediate physical strain and fatigue, increasing the risk of acute injuries such as muscle strains and saddle sores.
Overtraining is a more chronic issue that results from consistently pushing your body over its limit without allowing sufficient time for recovery. This can lead to a range of physical and performance-related problems, ranging from overuse injuries like tendonitis and urogenital issues to more serious injuries as a result of fatigue.
Common cycling injuries and how to treat them
Common cycling injuries can vary in severity and may affect different parts of the body. Below, we list some of the most common cycling injuries with prevention and treatment tips for each.
1. Road rash
Road rash is an abrasion caused by sliding across the pavement in a fall, characterized by the scraping away of the top layers of skin. Road rash can range from mild to severe, depending on the speed and force of the fall and the extent of skin contact with the abrasive surface.
The severity can vary from a superficial scrape to a deep wound. Road rash can be very painful because the nerve endings in the skin are exposed or damaged. Contusions and swelling can accompany road rash, especially if your fall is forceful.
Road rash injuries can be at risk of infection due to the exposure of the underlying tissue and potential contamination from the road or any foreign objects that may have come into contact with the wound.
How to treat road rash
Treatment for road rash typically involves:
- Cleaning: Thoroughly clean the affected area with mild soap and water to remove dirt, debris, and potential contaminants. Apply an antiseptic solution to the wound to prevent infection.
- Dressing: Cover the road rash with a sterile bandage or non-stick dressing to keep the wound clean and moist. This helps with healing and minimizes scarring.
- Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers may be used to manage pain and discomfort.
- Medical Attention: For more severe cases of road rash, or if there are signs of infection, it’s essential to seek medical attention. In some cases, stitches or antibiotics may be necessary.
2. Knee pain
Knee pain is a general term used to describe various types of knee discomfort or pain that can occur as a result of cycling. Common symptoms of knee pain include pain around the kneecap or on the sides of the knee, discomfort during or after cycling, swelling, a clicking or popping sensation in the knee, and reduced range of motion.
Your knee pain could result from many underlying causes, including patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, and patellar tendonitis. Overuse, improper bike fit, poor riding technique, or underlying biomechanical problems can all lead to knee pain.
How to prevent and manage knee pain from cycling
- Proper bike fit: Ensure your bike is correctly fitted to your body size and riding style. Seek professional assistance if needed.
- Pedaling technique: Pay attention to your pedaling technique. Aim for a smooth and efficient pedal stroke, and avoid excessive force on the knees.
- Strength and flexibility: Incorporate strength and flexibility exercises for the legs, especially the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, into your training routine.
- Gradual progression: Avoid sudden increases in intensity or duration of cycling. Gradually build up your training to allow your body to adapt.
- Rest and recovery: Listen to your body and allow for proper rest and recovery between rides.
- Seek professional advice: If you experience persistent knee pain, consult a healthcare professional, such as a sports medicine specialist or physical therapist, for a proper evaluation and treatment plan.
3. Head injuries
Head injuries are a significant concern in cycling, and they can have serious and even life-threatening consequences. Falling off the bike is the most common cause of head injuries in cyclists, whether due to loss of balance, hitting an obstacle, or being involved in a collision with another vehicle or object.
Head injuries can range from mild concussions to severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Depending on the severity, head injuries can lead to the following consequences:
- Concussion: Symptoms may include confusion, memory problems, headache, dizziness, and nausea. Most concussions are mild, but they require rest and medical evaluation.
- Skull fracture: A fracture of the skull can result in bleeding, injury to the brain, and neurological symptoms.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI): TBIs can range from mild (concussion) to severe, leading to permanent brain damage, coma, or death. Severe TBIs may require surgery and long-term rehabilitation.
- Facial injuries: Head injuries can also result in facial fractures, lacerations, and damage to the eyes, nose, and mouth.
How to prevent head injuries while cycling
Wearing a properly fitted helmet is essential for all cyclists to reduce the risk of head injuries. To reduce the risk of significant head injuries, consider a helmet with MIPS technology. MIPS stands for “Multi-directional Impact Protection System.” It’s a patented technology designed to address rotational forces that can occur during certain types of impacts, such as angled or oblique impacts, common in cycling accidents.
4. Wrist pain or numbness
If you suffer from wrist pain when cycling, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) may be the culprit. Symptoms of CTS in cyclists include numbness or tingling in fingers, weakness in the hand (especially when gripping objects), and pain or discomfort in the wrist, palm, or forearm.
While CTS is more commonly associated with activities that involve repetitive hand and wrist movements, it can also occur from cycling because you place significant pressure on your hands and wrists while gripping the handlebars.
How to prevent and manage wrist pain from cycling
- Handlebar adjustment: Adjust the handlebar height and angle to promote a more neutral wrist position. A handlebar that is too low or too far forward can strain the wrists.
- Grip technique: Maintain a relaxed grip on the handlebars, keeping your wrists in a more neutral position. Avoid excessive squeezing of the handlebars.
- Cycling gloves: Use well-padded cycling gloves to cushion the hands and wrists, reducing vibrations and pressure.
- Hand and wrist exercises: Incorporate hand and wrist stretches and exercises into your routine to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of compression on the median nerve.
- Regular breaks: During long rides, take regular breaks to relieve pressure on the wrists and hands. Shake out your hands and wrists to encourage blood flow.
- Anti-inflammatory measures: If you experience mild symptoms, consider over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Professional evaluation: If symptoms persist or worsen, consult a healthcare professional or a sports medicine specialist for a proper evaluation. They can provide treatment options, such as splinting, physical therapy, or in severe cases, surgical intervention.
5. Foot pain or numbness
Foot pain and numbness are common issues that cyclists experience while riding. During or after cycling, you might experience hot spots, arch pain, or pain in the bottom of your foot, as well as numbness and tingling in your feet and toes. If left untreated, this could evolve into discomfort or cramping during or after rides and reduced power or efficiency due to pain or numbness.
One common cause of foot discomfort in cycling is an improper bike fit. If your bike is not fitted correctly to your body size and riding style, it can lead to uneven pressure distribution on your feet. The position of your feet on the pedals can also affect comfort and performance. Poor foot positioning, such as excessive toe pointing or excessive heel dropping, can lead to discomfort.
The type of cycling shoes you wear, as well as their fit and cleat alignment, can also impact foot comfort during rides. Shoes that are too tight or have inadequate arch support can contribute to pain and numbness. Cycling socks, insoles, and inserts can all improve the overall fit of your cycling shoes and prevent foot pain.
How to prevent and manage foot pain from cycling
- Foot position: Maintain a neutral foot position on the pedals. Avoid excessive toe pointing or heel dropping.
- Cycling shoes: Invest in high-quality cycling shoes that offer good arch support and a proper fit. Consider shoes with adjustable closures to fine-tune fit.
- Cleat alignment: Ensure that your cleats are properly aligned to match your natural foot position. Misaligned cleats can lead to foot discomfort.
- Insoles and inserts: Custom or over-the-counter insoles or inserts can provide additional arch support and cushioning, reducing pressure points.
- Footwear sizing: Ensure your cycling shoes are the correct size and provide enough room for your feet to expand during a ride.
- Pedal pressure: Pay attention to your pedal technique. Maintain a smooth pedal stroke and avoid pushing excessively hard on the pedals, which can contribute to numbness.
- Position changes: During long rides, shift your foot position on the pedals and periodically stand up to alleviate pressure on your feet.
- Rest and recovery: Give your feet adequate time to recover after rides. Stretching and massaging your feet can help reduce tension.
6. Urogenital pain
Urogenital pain from cycling refers to discomfort or pain in the urogenital region, which includes the genitals and urinary tract, that can occur as a result of prolonged or repetitive cycling. This type of pain can affect both male and female cyclists and may involve various symptoms, including discomfort, numbness, tingling, or pain in the genital area, perineum, or urinary tract.
The type of bicycle saddle and its fit play a significant role. An improperly fitted saddle or one that does not match the rider’s anatomy can increase the risk of urogenital pain. The repetitive pedaling motion as well as continually applied pressure to the area can also contribute to urogenital discomfort, especially if riders do not shift their position or take breaks during long rides.
Common symptoms of urogenital pain include numbness, tingling, swelling, pain in the genital area, discomfort during urination, and urinary tract infections (UTIs) in some cases.
How to prevent and manage urogenital discomfort from cycling
- Saddle choice: Consider a saddle that is designed to reduce pressure on the perineal area. Some saddles have central cutouts or channels to relieve pressure.
- Chamois: Invest in cycling shorts or bib shorts with a high-quality chamois that will help cushion you and reduce friction.
- Shift position: During long rides, periodically stand up on the pedals for short intervals to relieve pressure.
- Chamois cream: Some cyclists find relief by using chamois cream, which can reduce friction and chafing in the urogenital area.
- Appropriate clothing: Ensure that your cycling clothing is clean and dry, as wet clothing can increase friction and irritation.
- Regular breaks: Take breaks during long rides to rest and alleviate pressure on the urogenital area.
- Medical evaluation: If you experience persistent or severe urogenital pain, numbness, or other symptoms, consult a healthcare professional. They can help diagnose any underlying issues and provide appropriate treatment.
7. Saddle sores
Saddle sores are a common issue among cyclists and refer to skin irritations, sores, or ulcers that develop in the groin or buttock area, specifically in areas that come into contact with the bicycle saddle. These sores can range from minor skin irritation to more severe and painful conditions. Saddle sores are primarily a result of friction, pressure, and moisture from extended periods of cycling, not to mention an ill-fitting saddle or bike seat.
How to prevent and treat saddle sores
- Proper bike fit: Ensure your bike is well-fitted, and consider a saddle that suits your anatomy and riding style.
- Quality cycling shorts: Invest in high-quality cycling shorts with a chamois to reduce friction and cushion the pressure points.
- Cleanliness: Maintain good personal hygiene and change out of wet cycling clothes promptly. Showering after rides can help reduce the risk of infection.
- Anti-chafing creams: Apply anti-chafing creams or chamois creams to reduce friction and moisture.
- Regular rest and position changes: Stand up on your pedals occasionally during rides to relieve pressure on the saddle area.
- Hydration: Staying well-hydrated can help reduce the concentration of salts and minerals in sweat, which can contribute to skin irritation.
- Proper wound care: If you develop saddle sores, keep them clean and dry. Over-the-counter antibiotic ointments may help with healing, but consult a healthcare professional if the sores are severe or show signs of infection.
8. Back pain
Back pain is a common issue for cyclists and can result from a variety of factors related to bike fit, riding technique, and individual biomechanics. It’s essential to address and manage back pain to ensure a comfortable and injury-free cycling experience.
An improperly fitted bike can place stress on the back, leading to discomfort or pain. Issues with saddle height, saddle position, handlebar height, and reach can all contribute to back pain. Cycling with improper posture or a rounded back can also cause back pain, exacerbated during long rides or when riding on rough terrain.
Riding for extended periods without adequate rest and recovery can lead to overuse injuries, including back pain. Overtraining without allowing the body to recover can also contribute to musculoskeletal issues.
How to prevent and manage back pain from cycling
- Posture: Maintain a neutral spine position while riding. Avoid rounding your back and hunching over the handlebars. Engage your core muscles to support your posture.
- Core strengthening: Incorporate core-strengthening exercises into your training routine to improve stability and support for your back. Planks, bridges, and leg raises can be beneficial.
- Stretching and flexibility: Include regular stretching exercises to maintain flexibility in the back, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Stretching can help prevent muscle tightness and imbalances.
- Gradual progression: Avoid sudden increases in training intensity or duration. Allow your body to adapt to new challenges gradually.
- Riding technique: Focus on a smooth pedal stroke and avoid excessive tension in the upper body. Relax your shoulders and keep your elbows slightly bent.
- Rest and recovery: Adequate rest and recovery are essential. Listen to your body and avoid pushing through pain.
- Padded shorts: Consider using padded cycling shorts to provide extra cushioning for your lower back and buttocks.
- Suspension and bike type: If you often ride on rough terrain, make sure you’re using an appropriate bike with suspension or wider tires to absorb shocks and reduce jarring impacts.
9. Muscle sprains and strains
Muscle strains occur when the muscle fibers are stretched or torn beyond their normal range of motion. In cycling, these strains often affect the quadriceps (front thigh muscles), hamstrings (back thigh muscles), and calf muscles. Strains can result from pushing too hard, using improper pedaling techniques, or not allowing adequate recovery time between rides.
Symptoms of sprains and strains associated with cycling may include pain, swelling, bruising, stiffness, weakness, and a limited range of motion.
How to prevent and manage muscle strains from cycling
- Rest: Allow the injured area to rest to promote healing and prevent further damage.
- Ice: Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce swelling and pain. Use a cold pack wrapped in a cloth and apply it for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
- Compression: Using a compression bandage or wrap can help control swelling and provide support to the injured area.
- Elevation: Elevating the injured limb above the level of the heart when at rest can help reduce swelling.
- Physical therapy: In some cases, physical therapy may be recommended to strengthen and rehabilitate the injured muscles or tendons.
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.
- Proper bike fit and technique: Ensure your bike is correctly fitted to your body size and riding style to prevent future injuries. Work on improving your cycling technique and consider professional advice if necessary.
10. Achilles tendonitis
Achilles tendonitis is a condition characterized by inflammation or irritation of the Achilles tendon, which is the large tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. While cycling is a low-impact activity compared to running or jumping, it can still contribute to Achilles tendonitis, especially if you have improper bike setup, pedal technique, or muscle imbalances.
How to prevent and manage Achilles tendonitis from cycling
- Proper bike fit: Ensure your bike is correctly fitted to your body size and riding style. Adjust the saddle height and position to minimize strain on the Achilles tendon.
- Footwear: Use cycling shoes that provide proper arch support and ensure your cleats are positioned correctly to promote a more natural foot position while pedaling.
- Stretching: Incorporate regular calf stretching exercises into your routine to maintain flexibility and prevent tightness in the calf muscles.
- Strength training: Strengthen your calf muscles through targeted strength training exercises to improve muscle balance and support the Achilles tendon.
- Pedaling technique: Pay attention to your pedaling technique. Aim for a smooth, circular pedal stroke rather than excessive toe pointing or heel dropping.
- Rest and recovery: Listen to your body and allow for proper rest and recovery between rides. If you experience Achilles pain, give it time to heal before resuming strenuous cycling.
- Medical evaluation: If you develop persistent Achilles tendon pain, consult a healthcare professional, such as a sports medicine specialist or physical therapist, for a proper evaluation and treatment plan. Treatment may include rest, ice, physical therapy, and in some cases, orthotics or other interventions.
Fractures are among the more serious injuries that can occur in cycling accidents, and they involve the breakage or cracking of bones. Cycling-related fractures can happen due to falls, collisions, or crashes, and they can range from minor fractures to more severe, complex injuries.
Some of the common bones fractured during cycling collisions or falls include the clavicle, wrist, elbow, ankle, or spine. Treating fractures may require casting, splinting, or, in some cases, surgery.
How to treat fractures from a cycling accident
In all cases of suspected fractures, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential for ensuring the best possible outcome and minimizing long-term complications.
To prevent cycling injuries, it’s essential to wear the proper cycling apparel, find the proper bike fit, and practice safe riding techniques. Additionally, warming up before cycling and incorporating strength and flexibility exercises into your routine can help reduce the risk of injuries. The following exercises can help keep you in top cycling shape and prevent injuries:
- Indoor Cycling Workouts to Make You Faster & Stronger
- Tips and Exercises to Increase Your Cycling Power
- Strength Training Exercises for Cyclists
- 4, 8, & 12-Week Cycling Plans for Beginners
Remember if you experience persistent pain or discomfort while cycling, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
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