Written by Student Kinesiologist Janice Leung with contributions from Dr. Kim Graham, Dr. TCM, R.Ac
The weather on the west coast has been great and a lot of recreational cyclists have been out and about. If you're not a seasoned cyclist, it might be easy to make rookie mistakes and end up sidelined with an injury. Although cycling is considered low impact, there are still many injuries that can occur especially due to prolonged postural adaptations and repetitive limb movements (Callaghan, 2005). Injures are not limited to but often include those involving the knee, IT band, neck and back (Mellion, 1991; Callaghan, 2005). If you're experiencing some pain on long rides, a few tweaks to your posture will probably prevent them from turning into full-fledged injuries. Here are 6 tips to help keep you riding healthy and happy.
1. Resetting your neck position every so often.
Your neck is an integral part of your spine and it's important to try to maintain a neutral spine and avoid hyper-extension or -flexion. You can incorporate a chin tuck to reset your neck position. Try to imagine a string from your upper back that goes straight through the top of your head. Keep the string straight and taught and when your head is in a neutral position, i.e. your chin is positioned in between extremes of being too far or too close to your chest, make a double chin.
2. Resetting your upper back position every so often.
It's easy to just bear down, focus on your pedal strokes and forget about your upper back. Wearing a backpack makes this worse as you're more prone to shrugging or rounding your upper back to compensate for the weight, especially on uphills. Think about performing a "scap push up" where you protract your scapulae (bringing your shoulder blades towards the outsides of your rib cage) and then retract your scapulae (pulling your shoulder blades down back). This can help as a reset to bring your upper back into a better position.
3. Keeping "soft" elbows, not hyperextending, especially on downhills.
Think about keeping your elbows slightly flexed and tucked in by your sides. I found myself hyperextending a lot when I first started riding and got sore elbows, but making this tweak to my posture helped solve the problem right away.
4. Be mindful of your knee tracking.
There are "normal" variances of pedal stroke, but most importantly watch for the extremes, such as wide-leg-knee-out or knock-kneed positions. Although knock-kneed is normal for some cyclists, proper alignment and pedaling mechanics dictate an "up and down" motion to be most desirable. Pedaling drills, along with assessment and treatment for any contributing physiologically limiting issues, e.g., hip, back, etc., will only help you to be more efficient and limit knee problems.
5. If riding for long bouts of time, consider gloves with specific palm padding and / or switching hand positions every so often.
Some common injuries in cyclists involve compression of nerves, such as the ulnar and median nerves, from prolonged pressure from the handlebars. Numbness and tingling in the fingers and hands may occur. This can be prevented by switching from the drop-down handlebar to the hoods or other positions every so often. There are also cycling gloves sold with padding in specific locations where the nerves are normally compressed to give more cushioning to reduce chances of irritating the nerves (Rehak, n.d.).
6. Get a bike fit.
Although this is an extra cost to your already expensive bike and bike gear, it's definitely worth it to have a professional adjust your bike to be personalized to fit your body. Even if you initially feel like riding your bike is completely comfortable, after some time, aches and pains may start to appear. As well, your saddle and seat height are big factors that affect the amount of flexion through your lower back. So if you tend to have issues with low back pain, make sure you get a bike fit in addition to professional help to ensure that you aren't having issues elsewhere, such as in your hamstrings. For me, the most pivotal changes included actually being able to fully grasp the brake levers from the hoods (talk about safety) and a decrease of neck tightness after I got a bike fit.
With all that being said, do your best. Sometimes neck posture or back posture inevitably goes out the window when you're struggling up a massive and long hill. But by keeping these few tips in mind and adjusting your posture throughout your long rides, it'll help to stave off injuries that force you to take time off the road.
If you ever have any concerns or questions, always consult your health professional. Make sure to stay tuned for the next blog post on tips for mountain biking from Movéo physiotherapist Amanda Sin, who has a national competitive background in mountain biking.