Road bike knee pain is a very common lower body problem that cyclists can experience. According to one study, almost 65% of cyclists can experience it. One of the common causes for it overdoing it while riding.
When training, you can ride harder and longer than your body is used to, which can strain the connective tissues and cause pain and inflammation. Another culprit can be a wrong bike position or improper equipment.
Types Of Cycling Knee Pain
Learn about the different types of knee pain that cyclists can experience and what can be done to prevent and treat it. This will help cyclists be able to continue on their road biking journeys.
Pain on the Front of the Knee: When the pain is on the front of the knee or on the kneecap, it’s usually due to quad muscles. The quad muscles are attached to the shin by the patella. If your quads are tight, it can affect the pedaling action. When pedaling, you could deliver too much force across the joint. In order to help this, check for things like saddle height. A too low saddle will cause a knee angle that is too tight, which will increase the force and the risk of stress and tendonitis.
In order to check your saddle, have a seat on it and rest the heel on the pedal and place the pedal in the six o’clock position. The knee on that leg should be straight. If you ride with your saddle too far forward, it can also cause pain. Even if your saddle height is correct, be mindful of form. If this pain is treated early, it can often go away quickly, but if it is left alone, it can cause long-term damage.
Pain in the front of the knee can also come from damage to the cartilage or meniscus, but that can also be from trauma. Foam rolling the quads, the inside of the thigh, and the IT band can help reduce some tight quads that are causing the pain. Make sure to do the rolling slowly. It should be done in a long, smooth, and progressive push to help add some length into the muscle.
Pain on the Back of the Knee: When the pain is felt on the back of the knee, it is less common, so it’s easier to figure out the cause. The cause of this is usually overextending the knee. Overextending your knee means that your saddle is either too far back or too high. Either lower it or move it forward.
Pain in the back of the knee is more common for cyclists who spend more time on bikes with fixed gears. When you ride this way, you use your hamstrings to slow your pedal stroke, which can put pressure on the hamstring muscle that runs along the back of your leg toward the outside of the knee and causes the pain.
Foam rolling or icing can also help with this type of injury. Icing for five minutes every hour can help improve the symptoms.
Pain on the Inside: Pain on the inside of the knee is often due to wrong cleat placement. The position of the cleats can dictate how far apart your feet are when pedaling. The ideal spacing needs to be so that your knees don’t push inward or outward, as this can stress the ligaments on the side of your knees and lead to pain.
Pain Felt on the Outside: Pain on the outside of the knee can be due to iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. When the IT band becomes stressed and inflamed, it causes pain. The IT band is a fibrous connective tissue that runs from the hip along the thigh. Misaligned cleats can also cause this.
Ways to Prevent Knee Pain
Besides seat placement, there are some other ways to alleviate knee pain.
Do a Warm Up: Just like with every sport, a proper warm up will get the blood moving and the muscles ready. Try 15 minutes of warm up before you go hard or try any hills.
Try Spinning: If you look at pros, you will see they have fluid and rapid pedal strokes. Use this drill to help your pedaling. Try a gear or two lower to make it easier than usual, as you are going to try your favorite climb. The higher cadence will be easier on joints so you can create round circles when you pedal, and not ovals. The repeated motion of this will train your body to make your pedaling much easier.
Build Your Mileage Gradually: If you have spent some time off from biking, make sure you build back slowly. Start with smaller mileage and build up by taking your time. Don’t increase the total mileage by too much each week, and keep it below a 10 percent addition each time.
Be Careful of Change: Consistency is important with training, and when you change your equipment, knees can suffer. Every time you get a different bike, shoes, pedals, or change the seat length, make sure to start easy.
Be Mindful of Your Temperature While Riding: It’s important to stay warm when out riding. When you are riding in colder weather with chapped and red knees, it can cause some trouble. Many will cover their knees if the temperature is below 60 degrees. Tolerance varies by individual, but keeping joints and muscles warm helps. If you are using warmers, you can also take them off if you start to heat up.
Don’t Forget Your Glutes and Core: Many cyclists will focus on strengthening their quads and calves, but it’s important to not forget the core. A core will need to be strong in order to avoid some of the knee pain. If there is a weakness in the glute muscles, it can cause the hamstrings and quads to work harder and cause overuse injuries. The glutes, abs, and core all work together. If the muscles aren’t all working together, then it can cause pain. Focus on some exercises to improve the core muscles.
Get a Bike Fitting: If your knee pain persists, then try getting a professional bike fit. This could be the greatest money you ever spend. This could be especially helpful if your knee pain is persistent and you aren’t sure what is causing it. It could be something as simple as adjusting the seat and you can continue along with your biking. A professional can look at your riding style and your pedaling strokes and make suggestions on what needs improvement. If knee pain is still persisting after a different fit, make sure to see a medical professional.