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5 common cycling injuries and how to avoid them

Cycling may be a low impact sport, but it can cause discomfort and even injuries. Here's how you can prevent them

How to avoid cycling injuries.
How to avoid cycling injuries. (Istockphoto)

Playing any sport entails a risk, however minuscule, of injury. Cycling is no different. It is certainly a low impact sport and your chances of picking up knee, ankle or hamstring injuries while cycling are lower than in other sports. However, cycling comes with its own unique set of challenges and injury risks. 

Cycling requires balance and control at high speeds, and you are susceptible to crashes and falls. Also, like any other endurance sport, cycling involves extreme high repetitions of the same movements which can usually cause some minor discomforts or injuries. Here are five injuries you ought to watch out for.

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Saddle soreness: There’s no other way to say this but cycling is going to be, literally, be a pain in your butt. Saddle soreness, which is caused because of sitting on the cycle seat for extended periods, is something every cyclist is familiar with. It leads to soreness and dull pain in your gluteus muscles, especially in the parts that bear all your upper body’s weight on the seat.

How to fix it: Because saddle soreness and pain will be very close to sensitive parts of the body, pain sprays and ointments are out of the question. The best cure for this is icing or a cold soak after the ride. At any rate, the pain will be dull and pretty much bearable and should subside over time, as your muscles get used to spending time on the cycle seat. If it is acute, consult a doctor and also think about changing your cycle seat or fixing your cycling position.   

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Chafing: Chafing is usually a result of poor clothing, dry skin or bad seats. If the chafing is minimal, dismiss it because anything that involves very high repetitions of the same movement will lead to friction, and hence chafing. Inner thighs, inner biceps and the butt are the common chafing zones. Extreme chafing is something to worry about and you need to take precautions.

How to fix it: If you have a skin issue that leaves you susceptible to chafing, try the readily available anti-chafing creams and lotions especially developed for endurance sports such as cycling, running and swimming. One home remedy that works post-chafing is applying aloe vera over the affected areas. Also, ditch the gel seat cover you may be using, and chances are you will stop chafing. Finally, take a second look at your cycling gear. Poorly fitting cycling shorts, bib and top, or cycling in improper clothes cause extreme chafing. Get the right gear and you will be a happier cyclist.

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Back and neck issues: Japanese author Haruki Murakami recalls in his bestseller What I Talk About When I Talk About Running about having a stiff neck for days when he first took to cycling. All cyclists usually experience stiffness and pain in their neck and back at some point or the other, says M.S. Sriram, a Bengaluru-based cycling coach. “However, this is not a debilitating or a long-term problem. Some pain in your lower back is also pretty common among all cyclists no matter how much experience one might have,” he adds. Gripping the handle too tight, using a cycle that is not the right size for you and not following a structured training plan could lead to pain or stiffness in the neck. Lower back issues can be caused by tight hamstrings, improper cadence, or using a cycle that’s not the right size for you. Also, remember to stretch out your muscles after a ride.

How to fix it: You need to strengthen your core, neck and back muscles if you want to eliminate these niggles, says Dr. Dhananjay Gupta, director (orthopedics), Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. But developing strength takes time. A quick fix till such time that you gain strength is to take breaks during the ride, advises Gupta. For your lower back pain, Gupta suggests stretching under supervision, deep tissue massage and/or a visit to the physio or sports medicine expert. Many a times, resting for a few days also fixes the problem. If the pain and stiffness persist beyond three weeks, call on a doctor.

Impact injuries due to falls: The poor conditions of our roads, even in big cities and urban areas, as well as aggressive and chaotic vehicular traffic, leave cyclists here extremely vulnerable to falls. Most cyclists, even the best of them, fall even in the best cycling conditions as they constantly push boundaries in order to improve.

Falls from a cycle could result in a mundane bruise or scrape, or it could even lead to something as serious as fracture or dislocation. Collarbone fractures and shoulder dislocation are among the most common cycling injuries caused by a fall. Being alert, improving bike handling skills and compromising on speed will help you avoid falls and thereby injuries that come with them, says Sriram.

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How to fix it: Bruises and scrapes can be addressed with simple first aid measures such as antiseptics, analgesics and ointments. Take a break from cycling till you feel better, adds Gupta. Fractures or dislocations are emergency situations and need immediate medical intervention.

IT Band friction: The illio-tibial (IT) band becomes tight due to overuse, especially if your gluteus muscles are weak and the IT band has to compensate while pedalling. Many distance runners often experience this problem. This causes pain behind or on the side of the knees. This can also be caused by incorrect saddle height, and/or increasing intensity or volume abruptly, before your body is ready to progress to the next level.

How to fix it: Include exercises such as glute bridges, hip thrusts, squats and deadlifts that strengthen your glutes in your training plan. Stretch out the hamstrings and foam roll regularly after a ride or workout. A deep tissue massage also helps.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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