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How to avoid common cycling injuries

Cycling can leave you sore, bruised and even seriously injured. Lounge speaks to experts to find out what the most common injuries are and how to prevent them

It's easy to prevent cycling injuries with the right knowledge.
It's easy to prevent cycling injuries with the right knowledge. (Unsplash)

 If you play a sport, injuries could strike you despite your utmost care and preparation. Cycling is no exception. Cycling injuries can be caused due to poor infrastructure, faulty or wrong gear, a lapse in concentration on your part or due to the error of other road-users. Even though you might not get injured, it’s best to know what the most common cycling injuries are, the possible causes and what do to in case you ever find yourself suffering from one. 

Saddle soreness: If you are new to cycling, you might fear that the pain in the butt (literally) is an injury. However, it is nothing but the soreness you feel from spending a lot of time on the cycle’s seat, also called the saddle. With time as you get used to cycling for longer durations you don’t feel the saddle soreness that much.

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Fix: Use a pair of padded cycling shorts to cushion your buttocks. This will reduce the saddle soreness. However, this is something that you will just have toget used to it. With time, you just feel it less but it never really goes away.

Chafing: Because it is an extremely high repetition sport, some chafing is common in cycling and can easily be avoided by the use of creams that reduce friction. However, don’t make the rookie mistake of using a gel seat cover to beat saddle soreness. Gel seat covers slip around when you are busy cycling, and this causes chafing in some very uncomfortable places, warns M.S. Sriram, cycling coach and founder of Sprocket Science India, a doorstep cycle servicing and bike fit start-up in Bengaluru. Wearing regular shorts on middle- or long-distance rides or poorly fitting cycling shorts could also lead to chafing.

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Fix: Remove the gel seat cover and not only will you be cycling better but also beat the chafing. Use proper cycling shorts instead to beat saddle soreness and chafing at one go. If you still experience chafing, apply aloe vera to the affected region and air out the spot when not cycling, advises Dr Dhananjay Gupta, director (orthopedics), Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. 

Stiffness in the back and neck: If you are new to cycling then expect some stiffness and pain in your upper back and neck. Your body is still getting used to the new sport, and you may also be gripping the handlebar too tight, says Sriram. Using a cycle that’s either too big or too small for you could also cause this injury. But this is nothing to get alarmed over and it is not a long-lasting problem. Lower back pain and stiffness can strike not just new but seasoned cyclists too and is one of the most common complaints. Make sure that you’re doing proper post-ride stretching and that you’re following a structured training plan. Remember, the most common cause of lower back ache is when cyclists fail to maintain optimum cadence while riding, which loads the lower back.

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Fix: Stretch out properly after every ride and that would relieve the pain and stiffness, says Dr Gupta. Also, incorporate strength training to strengthen your core, neck and back muscles else you are likely to experience pain, he adds. If the problem persists beyond three weeks visit a doctor and check if you need rehab. Resting for a few days also gives the body some time to recuperate. A deep tissue massage from a sports medicine specialist to release the tight hamstrings and back would also be an option.

Impact injuries: Falls from bike are caused due to multiple reasons—the rider’s poor bike handling skills, a lapse in concentration, bad infrastructure (bad roads, potholes), crossing animals or rash drivers. At times, speed is the culprit as most cyclists aren’t used to handling the bike at high speeds, warns Sriram. Falls could cause fairly routine injuries like scrapes and bruises that you won’t lose sleep over and it could also lead to serious injuries like broken bones and dislocated shoulders. One of the most common fractures from a bike fall are broken collarbones.

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Fix: Bruising, scraping and swelling can be fixed with first aid interventions such as antiseptics, analgesics and ointments, says Dr Gupta. If the injury persists beyond three weeks, you must visit a doctor to have it looked at. Collarbone fracture or shoulder dislocations are acute trauma and need emergency intervention. Both are painful conditions and the loss of function is significant, says Dr Gupta. Both require immediate medical intervention and should be treated promptly and properly. 

IT Band Friction Syndrome: The illio-tibial (IT) band becomes tight due to overuse and can cause pain on the outside behind the knees. The IT band is forced into overuse while pedaling if your gluteus muscles are weak. Other causes of IT band trouble are incorrect saddle height, tight hamstrings and sustained sudden increase in speed or mileage.

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Fix: Foam roll and stretch your hamstrings as well as the IT band. Also perform glute strengthening exercises such as glute bridges, hip thrusts and squats. Deep tissue massage to release the hamstrings and glutes also helps.

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

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