Riding your bicycle can be a fun and effective way to get in shape and maintain your physical fitness. Cycling can increase your strength, stamina, and aerobic fitness. Your lungs, heart, and blood vessels all benefit. In addition, regular bike riding has been shown to reduce stress, improve posture, and burn excess body fat. People at risk of health issues including but not limited to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and some mental illnesses can benefit tremendously from cycling. However, no one should begin an exercise regimen without first consulting their doctor.
But, what happens when the activity you chose to stay healthy ends up causing you pain? As many longtime cyclists can tell you, this otherwise beneficial sport can take a toll on your joints, especially your lower back and knees.
Why Cycling Causes Knee Pain
Did you know that more than 40 percent of all recreational cyclists experience bike-related knee pain at some point in their lives? Due to the unique mechanics of cycling, the risk of repetitive stress injury is a legitimate concern. There are several factors that play a role in exacerbating that risk. These include the fit of the bike and the rider, the technique used, and the frequency or intensity of your rides.
Once of the simplest causes of bike-related knee pain is also one of the easiest to fix: poor saddle fit. Here’s a tip: straddle your bike, then place the pedals in the six o’clock and twelve o’clock positions. Rest your heel on the lower pedal (six o’clock). That leg should be straight. Here’s another way to check: when both feet on the pedals are parallel to the floor (three and nine o’clock), the forward joint should hover above the ball of your foot. Check your stance, and try raising the saddle until your stance reflects these characteristics. Foot placement may also lead to pain. Pedals that are too close or too far apart from the bike frame may cause knee pain. Adjust as necessary.
Another common cause of bike-related knee pain is a sudden increase in the speed, intensity, or duration of your workout. If you are accustomed to an occasional, leisurely ride, and you opt to grind out a tough, long ride, especially with increased changes in elevation or at a faster pace, the chance of stress injury is significantly increased. The connective tissues holding your knees together and cushioning the joint are not conditioned for the load expected of them. To reduce this risk, stretch daily and, only gradually increase the speed, intensity, or difficulty of your ride.
Reducing the Risk of Knee Pain
Low-impact, low-intensity cycling can actually benefit people already struggling with osteoarthritis-related knee pain. Bike riding strengthens the muscles around the joint while the repetitive range of motion stretches knee ligaments. However, if you are experiencing knee pain, speak with your doctor to determine how and when to continue a cycling regimen.
Maintaining a healthy weight is an important way to reduce knee pain from cycling. A 2010 study in Disability and Rehabilitation looked at cyclists in three groups: knee osteoarthritis patients, knee replacement patients, and patients with a meniscal or ligament injury. The study indicated that age plays a progressive role in reducing the ability to cycle without pain. However, Body Mass Index (BMI) played an even more direct role in causing bike-related knee pain. This study also found that low-intensity cycling can be just as effective as high-intensity cycling for improving aerobic capacity.
Choosing a flatter riding surface and a more comfortable bike also reduced knee pain. For cyclists with knee pain who still want to experience the rigors of grade and elevation, consider using a bike with a small chain on a triple crankset, so-called Granny gears. This mechanical setup allows cyclists to climb hills with less strain on the joints.
Opting for a recumbent-style bike is another viable option for cyclists struggling with knee pain. A recumbent bike reduces stress on the knees and the spine. While some of the physical benefits may be reduced when you switch to a recumbent bike, if the choice is between riding or not riding, a recumbent bike can be an excellent and effective option.
Treating Knee Pain from Cycling
The first step in effectively treating knee pain is to understand why your knee may be hurting. Let’s start with a basic overview of the knee joint. The knee is a synovial (hinge) joint formed by three bones (femur, tibia, and patella), as well as ligaments, tendons, meniscus, and articular cartilage. Together, these elements allow the knee to bend and flex without overextension, while restricting lateral movement.
Knee pain can be felt in one or more of four specific areas: anterior (front), posterior (back), lateral (outside), and medial (inside). Minimal to moderate anterior or posterior bike-related knee pain is often caused by the strain of pedaling, while minimal to moderate lateral or medial pain may be due to improper pedal placement or issues with the cleat or cycling shoes. However, if you address these issues and are still experiencing knee pain, you may consider one the following at-home remedies:
Rest for a few days, applying ice to reduce swelling and/or heat to increase blood flow
Stretch carefully every day; if stretching causes more pain, see a doctor
Return to cycling gradually, giving your joint time to ease back in
If the pain persists or becomes more frequent or intense, you may be a good candidate for a cutting-edge, non-surgical treatment proven to improve joint function and deliver long-term pain relief.
21st Century Pain Relief Without Surgery
Determining the best options to effectively treat your knee pain begins with a comprehensive review of your condition, including a review of your symptoms and a physical examination of the joint. If you are a good candidate, we may recommend SCT – Regenerative Medicine to treat your knee pain. This proven joint pain solution is on the cutting edge of regenerative medicine. SCT – Regenerative Medicine is safe and effective, because it uses your own healthy stem cells to heal cartilage and other soft tissue cells damaged by cycling-related stress or osteoarthritis.
Compared to knee joint surgery or other invasive treatments, stem cell offers many clear advantages, including:
Same-day, outpatient treatment
Much shorter recovery time
Progressively better results as stem cells continue their regenerative work for months after the initial injection
No risk of rejection, and much less risk of complications related to joint surgery
Because stem cells actually replace lost or damaged cells, patients enjoy much healthier outcomes, including reduced pain and gradual improvement in joint function. You could be back on your bike, without pain, in just a few weeks, as opposed to months of painful recovery after knee surgery.
If your joint pain is keeping you off the bike or away from any other activity you enjoy, contact Dr. Mike Skaliy at Atlanta Spine Specialists. He will answer all your questions and explain how stem cell treatment can bring you “Back to Life!”