Friday, June 8, 2012

How to prevent knee pain when cycling


Recently, a friend triumphantly announced: "Biked 18 miles yesterday. Today my knees hurt a lot. Still think it's a win, though!"

Yes, girl, that is definitely a win. But your knees don't have to hurt. In fact, it's a good idea to avoid knee pain altogether. Try these five easy adjustments to keep your knees healthy when you ride.

1. Pedal in a lower gear. "High gears" use the large chainring at your pedals and the small cogs on your back wheel. These gears allow you to pedal slowly while covering more ground. They're ideal for pedaling downhill or riding with the wind at your back. However, because these gears put more resistance on the pedals, they also put more resistance on your knees. Try spinning a lower, easier gear. Experiment with different combinations. At first, it may feel awkward to pedal more quickly, but your knees will thank you.

2. Perfect your form. The next time you ride, take a look at the movement of your legs. Are your knees pointing in toward the bike? Are they pointing away from the bike? Both of these angles require sideways movements that irritate the cartilage in your knee socket. Focus on pedaling with your knees forward, so that your legs move straight up and down like pistons.
3. Consider getting baskets or toe clips. Pedaling freely encourages one simple motion for your feet: down. Fastening your feet to the pedals with toe clips allows for a greater range of pedaling strength. Now you can move in a smooth, circular motion, pulling up as well as pushing down, and taking even more pressure off of your knees.

4. Decrease the weight in your bag. This follows from #2. Last summer, I rode my bike to and from work with a messenger bag that held my laptop, lunch, coffee, and clothes—among other things. The bag hung from my left shoulder. While I wasn't surprised by the pain that developed in my shoulder, it did take some time to recognize the connection to the pain in my left knee. When I rode with the bag, my body overcompensated for the weight by shifting my balance on the bike. Leaning just slightly to the left placed more pressure on my knee and altered the movements of my leg. Ride light, or put your load directly on your bike.

5. Adjust your seat height. A seat that's too low can also do damage to your knees. For an easy fix, visit your local bike shop and ask them to help you find the right fit. This method is not foolproof, however. I like Sheldon Brown's do-it-yourself approach:
"I suggest gradually raising your saddle, perhaps half an inch (1 cm) at a time. Each time you raise it, ride the bike. If it doesn't feel noticeably worse to ride, ride it for at least a couple of miles/km.
"If it had been too low before, your bike will feel lighter and faster with the new riding position. If raising the saddle improved things, raise it again, and ride some more. Keep doing this until the saddle is finally too high, then lower it just a bit."
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