Pain caused by cycling in general

Cycling is a great way to keep fit and enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, it can also cause pain and discomfort for many cyclists. In this article, we discuss the most common causes of pain caused by cycling and give tips on how you can ease the pain and enjoy cycling to the fullest.

  1. Bike adjustment: One of the most common causes of pain while cycling is a poorly adjusted bike. Incorrect saddle height and distance to the handlebars can lead to an uncomfortable position that puts strain on the back, knees and arms. Make sure your bike is properly adjusted to fit your body. Turn to a professional who will help you achieve the optimal position.

  2. Seat comfort: The saddle can be a big cause of pain when cycling. A poorly fitting saddle can cause discomfort and even compression of the nerves under the saddle. Choose an ergonomic saddle that fits you and offers enough cushioning. Also remember to adjust the height and angle of the saddle correctly so that the weight is evenly distributed on the seat bones.

  3. Cycling technique: Incorrect cycling technique can also cause pain and tension in the body. Keep your back straight and relaxed, and avoid squeezing the handlebars too much. Use the pedals evenly, dividing the work between both feet. Also learn how to shift gears correctly and take advantage of shifting your body's center of gravity when you need more power.

  4. Improving muscle strength and flexibility: Cycling requires good muscle strength and flexibility. Weak or tense muscles can lead to pain and discomfort. Strengthen the body's supporting muscles, such as the core, back and legs, with regular exercise. Regular stretching and body care also help maintain good flexibility and reduce pain.

  5. Good equipment: Well-fitting and technically high-quality cycling clothing can make a big difference in reducing pain. Choose cycling pants that provide padding under the seat and reduce chafing. Also use cycling gloves that provide cushioning and protect the hands from vibration.

  6. Balanced load: When cycling, use a backpack or luggage bag in which the weight is evenly distributed on both sides. An unbalanced load can cause discomfort and pain in the back and shoulder area. Make sure the load is balanced and, if necessary, adjust the straps of the backpack or bag correctly.

  7. Rest and listen to your body: Don't forget rest and recovery. Give your body enough time to recover and repair itself. If you experience constant pain while cycling, give yourself rest days and listen to your body. If the pain persists or worsens, consult a doctor.

Pain from cycling can be harmful and prevent you from enjoying this great hobby. However, by following the tips above, you can reduce pain and increase comfort while cycling. Remember that everyone's body is unique, so find the adjustments and techniques that work for you to help you fully enjoy cycling.

Back pain and other back symptoms

Common causes of back pain:

  • Saddle too high or too low
  • Weak core / supporting muscles
  • Use of too high a gear or
  • Too much difference between saddle and bar height

First check the saddle height. If your hips rock from side to side when you pedal, your lower back will be strained - lower the saddle until your hips don't rock. If the saddle is too low, the knee has to rise above the hip at the end of pedaling, which can also bend and strain the lower back.

Next, check your posture. The back should be flat and the curvature of the lower back normal. If your spine is rounded, you are straining your back. Roll your hips forward to keep your spine neutral. Adjust the wheel cab to maintain this position. Often this means moving the handlebars and saddle closer together.

Using a large or heavy gear is like doing leg exercises without back support. Shift to a lower gear and increase the cadence to not strain your back. Then check the function of the supporting muscles. You should be able to take your hands off the bar (not while riding though) and keep your spine in a neutral position with a comfortable bend. If you can't, it's time to do bridges and deadlifts to strengthen your core muscles. Alternatively, you can raise the bar higher or shorten the cockpit with a shorter handlebar bracket.

What I adjust:

  • It is good to test the height of the saddle and adjust it in small steps. Measure the length of the inside leg and multiply it by the 109% rule. This gives you a measurement from the top of the pedal to the top of the saddle, for example 82cm * 1.09 = 89.38cm. Put the measuring tape from the middle of the pedal and crank attachment point to the middle of the saddle and raise / lower the saddle to get the calculated distance.
  • Raise the handlebar with spacers / risers, a higher bar or turn the handlebar bracket, if the handlebar bracket is an angle-adjustable version.
saddle height adjustment

Neck pain

Neck pain is another common cycling complaint and is usually caused by a bike that is too long or handlebars that are too low. Tight hamstrings and hip muscles can also cause neck pain because they force the spine to round or curve and the neck to overextend.

If you have neck pain, first find out what a neutral head position should feel like while cycling. The goal is for the shoulders to form a 90 degree or slightly smaller angle between the upper limbs and the body when the hands are on the bar. If the position is greater than this, the head is placed more forward, which strains the neck muscles that support the head.

With your hands on the bars, pull your chin in, activating the muscles in the front of your neck, then look up. This movement distributes the pressure on more vertebrae, while the joints are only in one or two segments, reducing the strain on the upper cervical spine.

What I adjust:

  • Adjust the cockpit with a shorter or longer handlebar bracket
  • Try a shorter frame
  • Lift the bar or
  • Lower the saddle

Leg pain or numbness in the legs

Foot pain or numbness is often caused by wearing soft-soled shoes. Special shoes designed for cycling have stiff soles that evenly distribute the pressure on the pedal. This also helps you pedal more efficiently.

Foot pain can also be caused by using a gear that is too big, where the foot and the pedal face more pressure.

Check the cleats. If they are too far forward, you are pedaling too much with your toes. The toe flexor muscles are not designed to produce force and can lead to toe cramps.

Then check the fit of the shoe. Cycling shoes should be tight, but many cyclists take this too far. Also adjust the tightening mechanism of the shoe so that it is slightly tight, but not too tight on the foot.

If your feet are still sore, you may need custom insoles.

What I adjust:

  • Pedal with a higher cadence (spinning speed) and lighter gears
  • Check that the cycling shoes are suitable for riding
  • Check the position of the cleats
    • The starting point of the cleats is good to be in the middle of the diagonal of the first and fifth metatarsal bones (See the picture below). This means that the center of the pedal axis should be in the center of the diagonal, i.e. in the picture below, the two red dots should overlap.
    • If the heel stays too high when pedaling, move the cleat forward so that the heel drops down when pedaling.
    • If during pedaling the heel goes to the horizontal plane or below the horizontal plane, move the cleat backwards so that the calf muscle stabilizes and the angle of the ankle and the ball of the foot remains between 115 and 180 degrees when turning the crank.
foot pedal cleat adjustment

Knee pain

Pain in the knee area is most commonly caused by either the height of the saddle and/or the position of the cleats of cycling shoes

If you have pain in the front of the knee, the saddle may be too low. If there is pain in the back of the knee, the saddle may be too high. A sharp pain in the side of the knee can also be caused by a saddle that is too high. However, a very common and often overlooked source of knee pain is the position of the shoe cleats.

Cleats that are too far forward or backward can strain the knee joint. Check that you're not pedaling your toes down, but that your heels are landing properly so you can use your calves as stabilizers and generate more power from your glutes and hamstrings, all of which takes the strain off your knees. When the pedal is in the bottom position of the round, the heel should be slightly above the horizontal plane, about 1-2cm.

What I adjust:

  • Pain behind the knee: lower the saddle
  • Pain in the front of the knee below the knee: raise the saddle
  • Pain in the front of the knee above the knee: usually caused by too tight hamstrings or too much stress. Reduce the load and pedal with lighter gears.
  • Pain in the inner corner of the knee: usually caused by the Q-factor, i.e. the distance of the shoe from the center line of the knee, is too far / outside the bike. Move the cleat towards the little toe, i.e. the outer edge of the shoe, so that the foot moves closer to the wheel.
  • Pain on the outside of the knee: usually caused by the Q-factor, i.e. the distance of the shoe from the center line of the knee, is too close to the bike. Move the cleat towards the big toe, i.e. the inner edge of the shoe, so that the foot moves further away from the wheel.
  • General pain in the knee: usually the cause is the position of the cleats, i.e. adjust the cleat according to the instructions mentioned above, taking into account the position of the heel in the lower position of the pedal.

Hand pain or hand numbness

Hand pain or numbness can be prevented by using padded cycling gloves that soften the hands. Cycling should be done with elbows slightly bent, not straight or locked.

The first thing to check is the saddle tilt. If the saddle is even slightly tilted downwards, the weight of the body can fall too much on the hands. Note that the horizontal level can be measured differently with different types of saddles, so check with the manufacturer of the saddle how the horizontal level of the saddle in question is measured.

A handlebar that is too low can also cause hand pain. Try a higher rise handlebar. Then check your wrist. They should be slightly, 10-15 degrees, bent back on the bar. Too small or too large a butter angle can strain the hands. You can do a visual check by looking at the top of your wrist. Twist them up until you see wrinkles or folds (in which case the angle is too small). Then straighten just enough so that the folds disappear.

The bent elbows act as shock absorbers and help absorb bumps in the road. If you still have pain and pressure, try changing the position of your hands on the handlebars of the bike.

What I adjust:

  • Angle adjustment of the handlebar, i.e. open the screws of the handlebar bracket and turn the handlebar up or down depending on which direction the angle needs to be adjusted.
  • Adjust the angle of the saddle so that the saddle is horizontal, or if you ride in an aggressive riding position, the angle of the saddle can be slightly downwards.
  • Adjust the handlebar up higher.
  • If you reach too far for the handlebars and your arms are too straight, shorten the handlebars.
  • Adjust the saddle distance. If there is too much pressure on the hands, move the saddle back a little.

ATTENTION: Adjusting the distance of the saddle also affects the height of the saddle in relation to the pedal, i.e. if the saddle is taken backwards, the height of the saddle should be lowered at the same time. If the saddle is moved forward, the height of the saddle should be raised at the same time.

saddle distance adjustment

Lower back pain or pressure in the wrong place

Adjust your position. The next time you sit in the saddle, take a moment to think about where all the pressure is going at the bottom end. Is your entire body weight on the saddle or is it evenly distributed on the hands, saddle and foot, how should the pressure distribution be.

Don't sit too far forward or back, don't lean too far forward or sit too straight. Basically, find the spot on the saddle where the riding position is comfortable and adjust your position accordingly.

It is very important to find a bike saddle that fits you well. There are dozens of different styles of bike saddles designed for different riders and riding styles. Seats are available in different materials, from gel to leather.

There are women's saddles that are shorter and wider to accommodate a woman's wider hips. Others have a cut in the middle to relieve pressure on the soft tissues. It's worth trying several to find the right saddle for you.

Cycling clothes can also cause chafing. Cyclists usually wear shorts with no seams. Underwear is not worn under the cycling shorts, so as not to create chafing and pressure points. The cycling shorts also have padded mountains that offer more comfort than normal pants.

What I adjust:

  • Measure the width of the seat bones and make sure you are riding with a saddle of the right width and shape
  • Make sure you wear quality cycling shorts with anatomically well-designed padding. So avoid cheap brands whose design does not take into account the design required by different driving styles in pants. So please note that there are different types of cycling pants for different sub-disciplines of cycling.
  • Too much pressure on the saddle: adjust the angle of the saddle slightly downwards (tilt the nose of the saddle down max. 3 degrees one degree at a time) or move the saddle slightly forward.
  • The saddle can also be too low, i.e. raise the saddle, but not so high that the hip starts to swing on the saddle.
  • The saddle may be too high, which you can tell if your hips sway when pedaling or you have to "reach" with your feet for the pedals.