Cycling is generally gentle on your joints. It is a low impact activity, but sometimes the repetitive motion can cause or aggravate joint issues – most commonly tendonitis, arthritis and postural imbalances. As you age, the chances of developing increases because of increased wear and tear on your body. Avoiding or mitigating the effects of joint issues will lead to more enjoyable pain free miles.
What is a Joint?
A joint is point where two bones meet for the purpose of allowing the body to move. There are some places in the body where bones meet but do not move – the different joints in the skull, for example. But most of the places bones meet are meant to move, and it is not just bone at that meeting point. There are also ligaments and tendons that move the joint and cartilage that cushions the joint.
Joint pain occurs when one of the four elements of a joint fails at its job – bone, ligament, tendon, or cartilage. When a bone fails, it is usually the result of an impact, whether it is from too many or one dramatic impact. It is more commonly called a break. When a ligament hurts, it is usually from a tear or rupture. This can happen on the bike from a fall or a really bad bike fit. Tendons are most often painful from tendinitis or inflammation of the tendon. This is frequently the result of overuse, and again, a really bad bike fit. Finally, worn out cartilage lessens the cushion between bones in a joint, which allows bone on bone contact. This is arthritis.
Arthritis is common as people age because of wear and tear on joints. Additionally, ligaments and tendons become more rigid and brittle, limiting a joints range of motion. Keeping that range of motion as high as possible depends on being active throughout life.
Cycling and Joints
If you have developed joint pain while you ride, you must determine if that pain is from riding itself or if it is another injury exacerbated by riding.
- Does the joint hurt off of the bike? During what activities?
- When did the pain start?
- What motions cause the pain? What makes it feel better?
- Are there any injuries or conditions that lead to the pain?
Out of the four structures in a joint, tendons and cartilage are the most likely culprits for pain. The most likely joint for pain in cycling is the knee, often the result of poor bike fit or overuse. Cycling is generally recommended for those with bad knees from arthritis, as it allows you to exercise without the impact. But if your bike fit is poor, arthritic knees can flare up.
Joints that keep moving stay healthier. As long as the volume or intensity (which can increase with training) is low enough to avoid tendinitis, staying fit will help keep joints in good condition. Find movements for all of your joints that will allow them to move and have a reduced impact.
Yoga will do the trick as long as you are not extended past your range of flexibility. Your joints are in motion and you are strengthening your muscles, which will be an additional aid in supporting your joints. Yoga will also help keep your flexibility up.
Weight lifting, as long as it does not cause pain and it is done with the right form, will also keep your joints healthy while strengthening the tissue around them. You do not need to push big weight; high repetitions at low weight is great for keeping your joints healthy.
Swimming and other water activities are also great for getting over joint pain. The buoyancy of water takes the load off of joints while allowing them to move. This is a great rehabilitation activity.
A proper bike fit is a key to being able to enjoy long days on the bike. It will ensure that your body is positioned optimally for your muscles to do the work while your joints can move freely, avoiding any unnecessary friction. Your body changes from time to time too; you can gain or lose fitness and flexibility over time. From time to time, you need to update your bike fit too.
Take Care of Yourself
The better you take care of yourself, the less likely you will be to succumb to joint issues and you will also age better. Your joints will maintain their flexibility and soft tissue better, keeping you on the bike longer and doing other things you love to do.