Managing Knee Pain for Cyclists: Prevention and Tips

So, you’ve just gotten into the grove of spending long hours in the saddle, building your fitness and skill in preparation for an upcoming race. But, the increased intensity of your training has awoken a sleeping horror: knee pain. You aren’t alone. In fact, many riders experience knee pain while riding a bike, but fortunately, there are ways to fix it.

The three most common causes of knee pain in cycling are an incorrect bike fit, incorrect training, and an injury. Injuries can be unrelated to cycling but can be caused by long rides. Start by getting your bike professionally fit, and when you train, increase the intensity gradually.

Knee pain can be frustrating and can severely damage your training, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. We’re here to walk you through some common causes of knee pain and the solutions to get you riding smoothly again.

The Common Links Between Knee Pain And Bike Riding

If it’s any consolidation, you aren’t the only cyclist with knee pain. A study done in 2017 found that more than a quarter of amateur cyclists experience some form of knee pain specifically related to cycling. But, that same study found that only about 16% of professional cyclists had had knee pain of some sort.

Evidently, the pros must be doing something right, and there must be something we can learn from them.

Bike Type And Fit Is A Common Cause Of Knee Pain

From personal experience, one of the most common and overlooked causes of knee pain is riding a bike that hasn’t been fitted to you. Most new cyclists buy a bike, take it home, hop on the saddle, and start riding. But this is a mistake, and the further and longer you begin to ride, the worse it will get.

All bikes are built so that a bike size covers an array of cyclists’ lengths. For example, slightly taller than average people could be teetering between needing a medium or large frame. The point is that your new bike wasn’t designed for your unique body, but the good news is that it can be “tuned” or “fit” to you.

While getting your bike fit, they will adjust things like the seat height, seat position, handlebar height, and reach, as well as the position of your cleats under your shoes. All of these adjustments alter your position on your bike.

By shifting the cleats, you move your position on the pedals and how your feet line up with pedal stroke. By shifting the saddle height and position, you change how far your legs extend during a pedal stroke and how that stroke lines up with your hips and torso.

As you can imagine, having a lousy setup can quickly put your knees, back, and other joints in strenuous positions, which can easily cause injuries over time. So, the first step you should take is getting your bike fitted, or you can try your hand at fitting it at home.

Here is a video to help you along:

Your Bike Training Could Be Hurting Your Knee

Another culprit that is more common among amateur cyclists is not training correctly. The usual pattern is that the cycling bug bites hard, and your enthusiasm runs sky-high. You spend hours in the saddle, pushing yourself, and decide to enter your first race.

In preparation for the race, you start tackling bigger and longer rides, taking on steep climbs and sharp descents. But, while your lungs may have increased capacity to keep up with your spirit, your body hasn’t.

Just like the old song goes, “Something’s gotta give,” and that something ends up being your knee.

This is why you need to gradually increase the intensity of your training and even combine your riding training with time in the gym. You need to build up the muscles that support your knees so that they are doing the work and not the joint.

Pro riders typically have strict workout programs that balance training results with body conditioning to prevent injuries.

Knee Pain While Cycling Can Be A Result Of An Injury

This may seem like an obvious cause of knee pain, but it is often overlooked. Injuries, in any form, can lead to long-term problems and definitely shouldn’t be ignored. Something as simple as over-extending your leg down a flight of stairs can put enough strain on your knee for it to grow from irritating to painful while you ride.

Knee injuries can also occur while riding. Sometimes, a ride is just a little long, too intense, or even too soon after your last ride and an injury occurs. This can even be a minor superficial injury with mild irritation and inflammation. Still, instead of giving your knee the rest it needs, you push forward, gradually adding straw to an already broken camel.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for injuries. If you catch it quickly and it’s just superficial, then you try the “RICE” treatment as soon as possible:

  • Rest: Do not strain the knee or put it under any load if possible.
  • Ice: Use cold packs or ice wrapped in a kitchen towel on your knee several times throughout the day.
  • Compression: Support your knee by wrapping it in a bandage or compression sock
  • Elevation: Keep your knee raised above the level of your heart.

Remember, it’s probably a good idea to consult a doctor or physiotherapist if you are worried and want to get back in the saddle quickly.

Body Mass Index Can Lead To Knee Pain

Riding a bike is a fantastic way to shake off a few pounds, get in shape, and get fit. But it’s also important to remember that the more body mass you have, the harder your legs will be working to pedal the bike.

This increases the risk of developing knee pain, especially if you aren’t paying attention to bike fit and training intensity. So here, the advice is to combine your bike riding training days with training at a gym to build the necessary supporting muscle structure. And then also combine your riding for weight loss with other weight loss efforts.

Conclusion

Knee pain from cycling is surprisingly common and can happen for several reasons. Firstly, if your bike isn’t set up correctly, you could be pedaling at awkward angles, causing strain on your knees. Secondly, if you train too hard, too soon, your body won’t have the correct muscle structure to support you. Finally, having a few extra pounds or an existing knee injury can also cause knee pain.

Author

  • Miles Baxter

    Miles Baxter is an engineer with a longstanding love for bicycles, sparked by winning a mountain bike in a childhood lottery. Balancing a keen interest in mechanics with the thrill of biking, his career is a testament to the art of turning wheels and gears into adventures.

    Baxter Miles