Knee pain when cycling is a common complaint for cyclists. In this article, we will discuss some of the main causes of knee pain for cyclists and some simple steps that you can take to avoid this complaint when you take to the saddle.
The Likely Causes
One of the most likely causes of pain when cycling is the setup of the bike.
Riding with a low saddle can put pressure in the front of your knee as a result of the effort from your quads to generate power. If your body is in a cramped position, your quads, glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings cannot work in an efficient way, and this can trigger pain around your knee each time you push down on the pedal.
The opposite problem can occur when the saddle is too high, and you overextend at the knee with every turn of your pedals. Doing this for a prolonged period can aggravate the area around the knee, causing pain and an uncomfortable ride. If this is the case, the pain that you suffer with will likely crop up behind your knee, rather than at the front (with a low saddle). Again, this is easily fixed by correcting your saddle position and ensuring that your bike set up is optimised before every ride.
Watch your feet/pedal placement if you are suffering with pain on the inside, or outside of your knee as this may be connected to the way your feet are positioned in the cleats.
To fix the issues outlined above, it is important to know the best position for your bike seat and how to set your bike up before a ride. This handy guide by Bicycling has some great tips on how to set your bike up with the optimum saddle position for a road bike.
Another likely cause of knee pain when cycling is muscular imbalance. Founder of Upright Health Matt Hsui champions the ‘always think muscles’ approach. In brief, where you are experiencing pain or discomfort in the body, think of how your muscles could work more effectively to lessen or eradicate the cause of pain.
That might sound like a radical approach but ensuring that your body’s muscular and skeletal system are optimised for movement is an important aspect of training in our, often, sedentary lives. If you have been sat at a desk for 40 hours in the week, then take to your bike for a long ride at the weekend, it is not unusual to feel some discomfort in the body. After all, the human body is made for movement, even if our modern lifestyles often don’t account for that.
Your quads, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors all play a key role for cyclists. If one (or more) of these muscles is out of balance, or weakened through injury, it may cause pain to crop up in other areas of the body.
There are a number of ways that muscular imbalance can impact your performance, whether in cycling or another form of activity so we’re not going to try to second guess what particular muscular imbalance you may be suffering from here. A good sports physio or personal trainer may be able to help you build a more robust and/or balanced frame in order to give you your pain-free ride.
IT Band Syndrome
Your iliotibial band runs from the outside of your hip, down the side your quad and into the side of your knee. If your IT band becomes inflamed, it can cause knee pain and be extremely uncomfortable. The cause of IT band pain may be due to the way that your bike is set up, specifically your foot positioning, or it may be due to external factors that have nothing to do with cycling.
Resting and icing the area is a great way to bring the inflammation down but stretching is key to alleviate any tension in the surrounding muscles. There are plenty of follow along yoga for cycling sessions that you can try to aide your recovery if you suffer with IT band syndrome when cycling.
Why not take a look at some stretches you can do before cycling to prevent injury from occurring.
It may simply be the case that you have gone too far too soon, or that you have skipped a rest day. Cycling puts a unique level and type of stress on the body and your muscles, joints and connective tissues will need time to recover after a longer or harder workout. Consecutive hard or long training days on the bike may cause your body to react to the demands you have placed on it with pain around the key joints and muscles, including your knees. Take a rest day to fully recover and make sure that you are feeling fresh the next time you head out for a ride.
You can avoid overtraining by creating a training plan with well-defined rest periods. It is important to be as intentional with your rest days as you would be with your long ride or hard days. Planning to have a rest day in advance means that you can map out your training in such a way as to achieve peak performance at the right time. Knowing when to go hard and when to rest means that you are less likely to over train, reducing the likelihood that you will get injured when cycling.
Taking on a hard ride too early in your training block may also cause knee pain as your body may not be ready for the increased effort. If your muscular system is unprepared for the effort you demand, your body will respond by sending pain signals. This is another key reason why you may want to consider creating a cycling training plan.
When it comes to knee pain and cycling there may be many different causes and each person’s journey will be different. But you don’t need to be in pain each time you get on the bike. Prevention is better than cure and by practicing targeted stretches, having a structured training plan and, perhaps most importantly, taking time to set up your bike in an ergonomic way, you can reduce the likelihood that you will suffer with knee pain when cycling.