Saddle Sore: The Six Most Common Cycling Injuries

Cycling can be a great workout, but it can lead to some nagging injuries too. We tell you what those are and how to avoid them.

May 23, 2016
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Cycling is an intense sport that is great for burning calories, improving cardio fitness, and building muscle in the legs and core. But, as with all types of vigorous exercise, injuries can be a major concern for cyclists, whether they ride on the road or trail. Sometimes those injuries can even be serious enough to keep them off the bike altogether.

If you’re a cyclist who loves riding, these are the six most common injuries you should be aware of—and how you can prevent them from knocking you off your bike.

Saddle Sores 

Probably the most common cycling injury of all, saddle sores affect just about every rider at some point. They are typically caused by pressure and friction between the rider’s skin, cycling shorts, and bike seat, with sweat helping to exacerbate the situation. The level of discomfort brought on by these sores can range from slightly irritating to incredibly painful.

The more serious saddle sores look like small pimples or ingrown hairs and can even be painful to the touch. They usually form on a rider’s inner thighs or crotch area, and generally don’t persist for more than a day or two. Taking a break from riding usually allows them to heal, but if you experience them regularly it may be time to replace your cycling shorts, bike seat, or both.

Achilles Tendonitis 

Typically brought on by over-training, Achilles tendonitis usually manifests itself in the form of a sharp pain in the Achilles tendon. The symptoms can continue to persist after a ride, sometimes making it painful to even walk. Applying ice to the tender area will help reduce swelling and take away some discomfort, but to truly recover from this ailment it is best to take some time off the bike.

Other causes for Achilles tendonitis in cyclists include a bike that is poorly fitted to the rider’s frame or shoe cleats that aren’t aligned properly. Check with your local bike shop to ensure everything is in order.

Lower Back Pain

Cyclists like to go fast, and to do so they need to hold a tight, aerodynamic position on their bikes for an extended period of time. That position is great for generating power and lowering drag, but it can also lead to lower back pain—or in extreme cases even a herniated disk. Take a break from riding to allow the pain to diminish and give your body time to recover.

Once again, having the proper bike frame and fit are key to avoiding this issue. If the rider is slouched over on a bike that is too small, the pain will persist. Similarly, if the bike frame is too large and the cyclist has to reach for the handlebars, back pain can be an issue. Be sure you’re riding the right bike and using the proper form to avoid the pain in the future.

Neck Pain

Much like experiencing pain in the lower back, many cyclists also suffer from a similar pain in their neck. This is caused by a tightening of the muscles that run along the base of the skull and down into the shoulders, which become tired due to the strain of holding the rider’s head in extension for a prolonged period of time. Once again, this is done to maintain an aerodynamic position on the bike, but it can become more severe due to poor positioning on the bike. Try sitting in a more upright position and loosening your grip on the handlebars to better allow these muscles to relax. The result will be a more comfortable ride and less pain after you’ve gotten off the bike.

ITB Syndrome 

Repetitive motion is often the cause of injuries in many forms of exercise, and cycling is no exception. The continuous motion of bending and straightening the knee can lead to irritation of the iliotibial band, which runs down the leg from the hip to the knee. When irritated, the IT band can cause pain and tightness in the knee, resulting in a very uncomfortable ride.

ITB syndrome is typically caused by a bike that has not been properly adjusted for the rider. In this case, the height of the seat is usually the cause. It has to be set just right to ensure that the knee is not overextending or over-bending.

Numbness in the Feet 

Some cyclists complain about their feet getting numb while they ride, which is typically caused by shoes that are too tight or by riding up too many hills. Wearing shoes that are the right size for you will ensure proper circulation and will quickly fix the first of those issues.

Riding up hills puts a lot of pressure on your legs and feet to generate power and maintain a steady speed. But if you’re finding your feet are numb after a hilly ride, perhaps shifting to a gear that is easier to pedal will help.

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