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How to Handle Cycling Aches

How to Handle Cycling Aches

Cycling is a wonderful exercise, but it can lead to several injuries. Read about managing common bicycling injuries, in this FitnessVigil article.
Tanmay Tikekar
Last Updated: May 7, 2018
Surely Not!
Excessive cycling has been claimed to be linked with male impotency, since the normal position of a bicycle rider compresses penile arteries and disrupts the blood flow to the vital region. This is only a threat after excessive riding, and can be counterbalanced by relaxing the cycling regimen, and/or fitting better saddles. Recumbent bikes don't cause these issues.
Cycling is popular as a commute and as an exercise the world over. And why not, when cycling is free, invigorating, and doesn't even cause any pollution. It's a low-impact activity that doesn't strain your joints if done correctly, and imparts several benefits if done regularly.
However, it is not without its own set of vices. Apart from accidents that can severely hurt the rider, cycling also can cause a number of repetitive stress injuries. If the seating position of the rider is not optimal, joints can get damaged, and overexerting yourself will result in nothing but eternally sore and possibly torn muscles. Here's a brief guide on some common cycling injuries, and how to avoid them.
Dealing with Pain After Cycling
Cycling puts a lot of strain on the legs and hips. The metronomic rotational movement also requires strong knees. The lower back and hips are responsible for maintaining the shape and posture of the body while riding. All of these are severely exerted during cycling, and are often the subject of repetition injuries. Acute muscle tears are rare among cyclists, except in an emergency, and fractured bones only result from heavy falls. Here are the most common injuries suffered by cyclists, and how to handle them.
Knee Pain
Knee pain is the most common cycling-related complaint. Knee pain while cycling can result from a variety of causes. It is most often caused by the lateral movement in knees while pedaling. The knee joint is not built for lateral movement, and constant, even if only minor, lateral motion stresses the knee joint immensely. Another common cause is excessive riding in higher gears. Higher gears are built for speed, but also work your legs the most. Knees can suffer due to a low saddle. If the saddle is low, the knee cap can't slot back into place as it would happen naturally. The extra effort can result in painful knees.

What you should do
If your knee aches while cycling, try shifting down the gears, especially on inclines. Check your riding position to see if your saddle is too low. If it indeed is, get it replaced immediately. A low saddle is the most damaging of these three causes. Last but not least, check your own pedaling position to see if you move your knees sideways while pedaling down. Correct your riding style, and strengthen your quadriceps. Quadriceps accommodate for some lateral motion in the knee, but the best option is to simply pay attention to your own riding style, and make the necessary changes.
Back Pain
Back pain is most often caused by an incorrect posture. A healthy cycling posture is one where the back is slightly arched forward. Keeping your spine completely erect doesn't allow it to absorb minor shocks that you may encounter. However, overarching your back can also be harmful in the long term, with chronic extensions of the posterior muscles resulting in weaker shoulders and an imbalanced pectoral girdle. Constantly keeping yourself off the saddle while bearing down on the handlebar can also weaken your hips and lower back.

What you should do
If you suffer from back pain while cycling, correct your posture. Adjust your saddle height to accommodate the necessary postural changes. If the pain persists, relax (or discontinue, depending upon the severity) your cycling routine, and consult a doctor to see if you have a previously unknown spinal condition. Practice yoga positions that are helpful for back pain.
Aching Calves
Pain in the calves is caused by riding too much on your toes. This excessively stretches the muscles of the lower leg, and the pain is felt especially in the Achilles tendon and at the back of the knees.

What you should do
This can be remedied by correcting the position of your feet. It's worth remembering that everyone has a different foot shape, and the ideal position is not the same for everybody. Adjust the saddle height and the way you place your foot on the pedal. Use the arch of the foot to anchor yourself. This usually is the best position, and in fact imparts benefits similar to performing squats.
Neck Pain
Overstretching your back and bending excessively can cause neck pain. Since cyclists must keep their eyes on the road, bending forward onto the handlebars forces the neck into unnatural and taxing positions, in order to keep the head from drooping.

What you should do
Adjust your posture so that your neck remains in line with the spine.
Wrist and Shoulder Pain
Leaning on the handlebar puts pressure on the wrists, and strains the shoulders. If you raise yourself off the seat, you are only balancing yourself on your legs and the wrists, which is extremely strenuous for the wrists. These two aches often occur together, but wrist pain is more common, since the shoulder can adapt to higher pressure better than the wrist.

Numbness in the fingers and wrists can also be a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome, which shouldn't be treated flippantly. Many important nerves pass through the wrists, and incorrect placement of the wrists can put undue pressure on them.

What you should do
Keep the lean-on-the-handlebar bursts of speed infrequent. Strengthen your wrists by doing planks or pushups. This will also strengthen your shoulders and core muscles, which will boost your cycling performance.
Apart from these, another relatively common injury is chafing in the thighs or excessive soreness. Chafing can be caused by wide saddles, or tight-fitting, layered biking shorts. Reversing these two conditions will relieve that malady. Many cyclists feel extremely sore after riding in biking shoes. The solution to this is to wear biking sandals (with socks, to prevent chafing), or be extremely picky and choose comfortable, airy shoes. Ankle pain, which is comparatively rare, may be caused by the 'ankling' style of pedaling. Ankling is stressful for the ankles if done for long durations, and should be avoided.
As you can see, most biking aches can be handled by minor adjustments in your posture, or adjustments in basic components of the bike such as the saddle. Many riders stop cycling altogether, when they encounter any injury, and miss out on its myriad benefits. Handling cycling aches is easy, and avails you to enjoy the benefits without worrying about the risks. More than anything else, it's a matter of listening to your own body. Each one of us has a unique body, and it is possible that no cycling enthusiast or expert has the advice that's ideal for your particular body. If you are uncomfortable with a particular position, fine-tune it until you find one that you enjoy. If you are unhappy with the equipment, change it. Always try out numerous options before making a final purchase, so that the chances of regretting your purchase are lowered. Ride safe, and most importantly, enjoy riding!