Training & Nutrition

How to: Look After Your Knees When Cycling

It's important to take care of those pedalling pins

Our bodies are the motors for our bikes. We power ourselves up steep climbs, absorb heavy impacts and endure miles of pedalling motion.

One of the most common pains we hear from cyclists is about the knees. Aches, pains and strains, through cold weather and warm, our knees appear to give us a lot of jip.

Knees form the joint between lower and upper leg, so when one or other becomes upset, they can take the brunt of it. Joint aches and pains can materialise in a number of ways, and for a number of reasons. Usually, the issue lies within one of the following areas: The Cycling – The Cyclist – The Bike

Once you figure our which is causing your knees the problem, you can work on that area and correct it before you give up on the two wheels altogether.

The Cycling

Cycling more forgiving on the joints than some sports, such as running. However, it’s not totally blameless. It isn’t just the repetitive pedalling motion our knees undergo, but the strain and pressure on them as we tackle climbs, take an impact on the descents, and if you’re riding off-road there’s always the chance of getting a wallop from a rogue branch.

Pains can appear when we suddenly ramp up training, not giving our bodies time to prepare for what we’re about to throw at them. That’s particularly common in spring when the arrival of long days, events and races can cause us to suddenly increase our time spent on the bike.

Unfortunately, you’re body can’t be transformed into a summer QOM smashing, race winning machine overnight, and if you try to push it too fast that can result in injury.

SOLUTION: Changes in your cycling habits, for whatever reason, need to be a slow enough change for your body to adapt to. Build up slowly to the style of riding you want to do, especially if you’re looking to try a new discipline of riding. Rather jumping from your regular 25km loop to a 60km loop, increase your distance at timely intervals until you reach your goal.

The Cyclist

It goes without saying that we’re all built differently. Our genetics and our lifestyle have a lot to play with which sports we can do easily, and which ones we can’t.

Over our lifetime, our knees have taken a beating, especially as a kid. Knocks, falls, grazes and sports can all take their toll over time. Underlying problems from previous injuries are a frequent cause for joint issues amongst cyclists.

Believe it or not, many of us will have one leg slightly longer than the other, or a rotated pelvis causing us to favour the use of one leg over the other. All these slight abnormalities will contribute to knee pain complications also.

How our muscles and joints grow and develop can lead to pains and aches also. Some of us are naturally more flexible than others, and some suffer from stiffness of the joints which is just a part of who we are.

SOLUTION: It’s difficult to find a one-rule-for-all approach when each individual is different. However, there are some things we can all do to help our knees cope better with the strain and stress they go through on the bike.

Warm baths to soften muscles is a great way to get started. Followed by stretching. Stretching should never be underestimated. It’s easy to do with a variety of benefits, and yet, so many of us forget to do it.

Stretching out specific muscles like the quads and hamstrings will help improve the flexibility of the legs, and create a better blood flow to the muscles whilst training. Stretching and strengthening the muscles around the knee will provide additional support to the joint also. Foam rollers are a great way to soften and stretch out those muscles, especially in the legs.

How to: Use a Foam Roller for Stretching

It may not be a muscular issue that you’re having, and if not the problem could be a little harder to identify. The knee does suffer wear over time, especially in the cartilage between the joints. This cartilage is there to assist with the movement of the bone joints and absorb impact taken. However, over time this cartilage can wear thin which can be incredibly painful, especially in cold winter months.

Glucosamine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in the body. It helps lubricate and strengthen the cartilage in your joints, so introducing rich glucosamine foods into your diet will help with those knee problems.

Regular stretching, massages and perhaps popping a Glucosamine tablet each day are all good ideas. However – more complicated issues such as a twisted pelvis or pain resulting from upset muscles elsewhere are best seen by a professional, such as a physiotherapist or osteopath.

The Bicycle

It may be a gorgeous bike. It may have the best components, the nicest shape, colour and design, but does it fit? Think of it like a pair of shoes: sure you may be able to walk in them, but if they don’t fit properly, you’ll end up in a lot of pain… and walking funny. A bike is no different.

There’s a lot of measurements and variables to consider when choosing the right bike size and set-up for you. Even the length of your crank arms can play a pivotal role for you pedalling efficiency. For example: The longer the crank arm, the more force required and motion of movement for one revolution.

SOLUTION: Seek our expert advice from a bike fitting service. They will measure your body in various places to ensure that not only your frame size is correct, but the angle, height and size of your set-up are correct also. At least knowing your bike is suitable for you, eliminates a problem area for your knees.

If your knees are giving your hassle, assess your cycling, your bike and yourself to see which area needs the work.

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