The knee is one of the most complex joints in the body, so it makes sense that it is often the first place we experience pain. Although it’s not a muscle, stretching is key to ensuring everything connected to the knee remains flexible and in place.
Many cyclists think knee pain means taking time away from the bike and resting up, but that’s not necessarily true. It could be caused by something as simple as a saddle adjustment or new cleats. So, if you’re experiencing knee pain, figure out what it may be stemming from and adjust your training accordingly.
Main Types of Knee Pain
Knee pain can show up in a variety of forms and for different reasons. These are some of the main types and common causes:
1. Anterior Knee Pain
Anterior knee pain is at the front of the knee, on and around the kneecap (patella). It is most commonly caused by overuse. The quads are attached to the shin via the kneecap so each time you pedal, forces are transmitted across the joint, essentially squishing it against the thigh bone. The part of the tendon attached to the kneecap can become inflamed and sore to the touch. Often referred to as ‘runner’s knee,’ it can happen to cyclists as well.
2. Posterior Knee Pain
The fair less common posterior knee pain shows up behind the knee and is usually a more simple diagnosis. Overextending the knee, with a saddle that is too high or too far back, causes posterior knee pain in most cases, so make sure your saddle is the proper height and adjustment for you.
3. Medial & Lateral Knee Pain
Pain located at the sides of knee in the collateral ligaments is most commonly caused by the feet. In cycling, this would come down to your cycling shoes or the position of the cleat. How far apart your feet are positioned can stress one of the collaterals, causing medial or lateral knee pain during or after a ride.
4. Iliotibial Band (IT Band) Syndrome
The IT band, running along the outside of the thigh from the pelvis to just below the knee, is a thick strap of tissue that can often become tight or inflamed. This is usually caused by over use, weakness of the gluteus medius muscle, or cleat placement. If the IT band has become inflamed, then rest and ice are in order. If it is tight and sore, then regular stretching and rolling will be your best course of action.
What can cause knee pain?
Although cycling is a low impact sport, too much of anything can lead to stress and strain on the body. Pedalling is a repetitive motion with the constant bending and extending motions flexing the knees and hips. Naturally, with overuse these are the most common sites of chronic-use injury.
Too much too soon
The number one cause of knee pain with cyclists is going too hard or far too soon. It is great to challenge yourself, but going further than your ligaments and muscles can handle will only hinder you progress. Endurance is something that is built up over time, conditioning your muscles over miles and hours. Ligaments take even longer to develop than muscles, with issues often arising from tightness or inflamation.
Improper bike fit
The little adjustments you can make to your bike can make all the difference when it comes to addressing or avoiding knee pain. The height and position of your saddle and the placement of cleats on the bottoms of your cycling shoes can cause or help avoid knee pain, depending on how well they are adjusted for you.
Not Enough Stretching and Rolling
Flexibility or lack of, is a cyclists nemesis. Eventually if you do not stretch or roll your muscles will tighten so much that you will have difficulty walking never mind riding. Make sure to do stretches that especially focus on the muscles surrounding the knee.
Knee pain can be disheartening when it comes to cycling, but most cases are not cause to give up on your training. However, if pain persists despite proper rest, stretching, or bike adjustments, then it may be a good idea to see a physiotherapist to see if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.