Sacramento is home to some of the best options for cyclists in the Western United States. With off-street bike paths, scenic routes, and plentiful mountain trails nearby, if you don't have a bike to ride, you really should! Many Cal Fit members cross-train in our gyms, but their first love has two wheels. Dr. Taglio is here today to share great information for anyone who wants to improve their cycling.
Cycling is such a great form of exercise for people of all age. With low impact on the joints, it is less likely to cause sprain/strain injuries. We do, however, see cyclists in our office with a variety of injuries: commonly pain in the neck, shoulders, hips, knees and low back as well as foot issues. Racing cyclists who lean low with their torso to reduce drag and increase aerodynamic efficiency will often feel stress and strain across their shoulders and neck. Knee injuries are the most common cycling injuries mainly due to overuse or falls but can also be related to biomechanical dysfunction of surrounding joints. It is common to see injuries related to overuse--especially with distance cyclists--but trauma from crashes and falls do happen, too! Here are a few tips on how you can improve your cycling experience, prevent injuries and improve your performance.
Proper Bike Fit and Set Up
Setting up your bike properly is vitally important for injury prevention and performance maximization. The right fit will help give you the most power and efficiency as well as prevent injuries due to improper positioning of your body on the bike. If you have old injuries, or known biomechanical issues like different leg lengths, then the right bike fit could help prevent comfort issues later on. If a bike isn't the correct size, cyclists can suffer repetitive or overuse injuries in the knees, lower legs, and ankles, which may lead to calf strains and knee tendonitis. If you already have old injuries, structural imbalances or misalignments within these joints, this can also contribute to new injuries and strains as well. Comfort is also important, especially if you will be riding for any length of time. I highly recommend being properly fitted by a professional and most bike shops offer this service.
There are a few things you can do if you can’t get to the bike shop to have your bike set up by a professional:
- Make sure your bike is the right size for you. A bike that is too big or too small will never be comfortable and will cause problems for you long term, so make sure when you purchase your bike that you have help getting one that is the correct size for your body.
- A seat that's too low or too high can cause more than just discomfort. Position the crank arms so that they are parallel to the seat tube. Sit on the seat and put your heel on the pedal. If you can’t reach the pedal, lower the seat until you can. If your leg is bent at the knee, raise the seat just until it’s straight. Knee pain can indicate improper saddle height.
- Proper handlebar reach will keep your upper body pain-free. While sitting comfortably on your seat, you should be able to easily reach the tops and brake hoods on a road bike, or the grips on a mountain bike, with elbows slightly bent, not locked. The lean of your torso should be supported by your core in a comfortably and you shouldn’t have to slide forward or back on the seat. Upper back or neck pain can be a sign that your handlebar reach is off, or your bars are too wide.
The joint of your big toe should be in-line with the axis of the pedal, the ischial bones (sit bones) of the pelvis must be towards the back of the saddle and hands should be placed on the handlebars or brake-lever hoods with a slight bend in the elbows. It is also important to listen to your body and go with what feels the most correct and comfortable for you. Riding a bike should be comfortable, so if its not, you should definitely see a professional for a fit. Pain, numbness, or tingling (especially in the hands, feet or butt) are signs that your bike is not fitting you right.
Staying Safe While Riding
- Ride with a group. Ride with a group of friends. Cycling is much safer on the road and always more fun with a larger group.
- Be Cautious While Taking a Drink. You can quickly glance down at your water bottle before grabbing or replacing it, but keep your eyes on the road as you reach down. Do not tilt your head back to drink the water, but tilt the bottle into your mouth. If something tricky comes up while you are drinking, bite the bottle and put your hand back on the handlebars until you are through the tough section.
- Stay Relaxed When Descending. Stay loose on the down hill. If your body is stiff, your bike will be rigid and skittish. Place your hands in the drops to lower your center of gravity and put more of your weight on the front wheel.
- Proper Nutrition. If you consistently eat a healthy and well balanced diet, you will have plenty of energy for what you need during your ride.
Always Check The Bikes Before A Ride
A pre-ride check can prevent most problems and accidents that can occur during your ride.
- Wheels: Should spin straight and not rub against the brakes. Check that tires have plenty of tread with no cuts/large nicks and that they are inflated the proper amount.
- Chain: Check your chain by wiping your finger on your chain. It should come away with just a small amount of oil. Too much oil collects dirt and grime, which will wear out your drivetrain.
- Headset and Stem: Check this by grabbing the front brake and rocking the handlebar back and forth. You should not feel movement in your headset. If you do, loosen the stem’s clamp bolts and tighten the top cap until there is no more movement and be sure to retighten the stem bolts before you ride.
Kids and Bikes
Kids usually get their first taste of freedom when they learn to ride a bicycle. Equipment that doesn’t fit right and traffic put kids at risk for falls, sprains, strains and more serious biking injuries. Simple adjustments to their bikes and helmets as well as teaching them the rules of the road and bicycle safety tips, can help your young riders avoid injuries.
The Importance of a Helmet
70% of children, ages 5 to 14, ride bikes regularly, making up 50% of all biking-related injuries. Almost half of the children hospitalized from bike-related accidents suffer traumatic brain injuries. Riders can reduce their risk of serious head injuries by 85%t by wearing a bike helmet. Estimates show that young riders use bicycle helmets only 15 to 25% of the time. Not wearing a helmet makes a rider 14 times more likely (than one with a helmet) to be involved in a fatal crash.
A Proper Helmet Fit
To prevent head injuries, a helmet must fit properly. When you place the helmet on your child's head have the child look up, he or she should be able to see the bottom rim of their helmet. The rim should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows. The straps, when buckled should form a "V" under the child’s ears and be snug but comfortable. Have your child open their mouth as wide as they can and check that the buckle is flat against their skin. Your child should feel the helmet "hugging" their head and if they don’t, tighten the straps. Do not buy your child a bike that they “can grow into.” This may be more economical, but it is not safe. It is very hard for a child to control a bike that is too big.
We treat many of the common biking injuries in our office, such as:
- Neck/Back: tightness and/or pain in the neck and lower back, as well as piriformis syndrome, which is when the piriformis muscle cramps, pressing on the sciatic nerve and causing buttock pain or sciatica.
- Shoulders: This includes AC joint sprains and clavicle (shoulder or collar bone) issues.
- Hand/Wrist/Forearm: This includes numbness and pain, as well as elbow and wrist misalignments, lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow, which also applies to cyclists), ulnar neuropathy, Cyclist’s Palsy and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
- Feet: Plantar fasciitis in the heel and arch as well as numbness and tingling in the feet.
- Knee/Leg: Patellofemoral syndrome, patella and quadriceps tendonitis, medial plica syndrome and iliotibial band friction, which either affect the kneecaps or outer knees as well as Achilles tendonitis.
Specific adjustments to misaligned and fixated joints improve range of motion and strengthen balance, improve posture and body alignment. Studies have shown that regular chiropractic adjustments help athletes recover quicker, heal properly, reduce pain and inflammation, helping them get back to their activity sooner.
Now get out on those bikes and enjoy these long summer days with your loved ones. Happy Summer! Not ready to hit the roads just yet? Consider trying a cycling class, check out our cycling classes at California Family Fitness!
As a wife and mother of two active little boys, Dr. Taglio understands that life is busy and can easily get out of balance. She knows how important healthy habits are in maintaining a healthy family. She is committed to addressing the whole body and takes a multi-pronged approach to improving the function of the nervous system, by removing nerve interference through chiropractic, addressing nutritional components and incorporating neuromuscular re-education to maintain spinal health and stability. She has made it her mission to help people not only feel great, but also help them reach their highest potential, in whatever their endeavors are. She has a love for children and their healing through chiropractic and nutrition.
The opinions expressed here represent those of the author. California Family Fitness will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Always consult your physician before beginning any nutrition or exercise program.