This is about the time of year more than a few cyclists find the excitement of Bike to Work Week and early-season charity rides replaced by the soreness of overworked knees and shoulders.
Long days in the saddle can lead to injuries caused as much by an ill-fitting bike as a lack of cycling fitness.
Knee pain, shoulder aches, back strains and numb extremities are typical complaints of struggling cyclists, reports Mark Lydecker, a physical therapist at the Froedtert Hospital and Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Medicine Center. For most the remedies are simple: seat, stem and handle bar adjustments, or a slight change in riding style.
Knee pain: Often caused by a saddle that’s too low or too far forward. The seat should be roughly hip high. A leg reaching to the bottom of a pedal stroke should have a slight bend in the knee, 25 to 30 degrees. When a pedal is forward in the 9 o’clock position, the knee cap should be directly over the axel of the pedal.
Lydecker also suggests riders suffering knee pain should check their riding style. Optimally, cyclists turn the pedals at 80 to 100 revolutions per minute. Pushing too large a gear, at lower RPMs, can strain knee ligaments and lead to patelofemoral pain.
Back pain: A seat that’s too high can be the cause, forcing a rider to rock their hips and reach at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Reaching too far from the seat to the handle bars can create similar problems, strained muscles in the back and shoulders.
In a proper position, the upper body should be at a 45-degree angle and the arms will drop from the shoulders at a 90-degree angle. Elbows should have a slight bend, about 15 degrees.
Numbness: A proper bike fit should alleviate numbness or tingling in hands and feet, and padded bike shorts will help maintain blood flow to more delicate body parts. Lydecker said it’s important to take some time off the bike, or at least out of the saddle, to reduce numbness in the pubic area.
Overall, flexibility, fitness and a moderate approach will provide pain-free riding.
“Make sure your bike is fit to you and gradually build your miles,” Lydecker said. “Listen to your body.”
The Froedtert sports medicine center and most bike shops in the Milwaukee area offer bike fittings, making small adjustments to seats, stems and handle bars to ensure proper alignment.