Cycling Knee Pain is a major concern for many cyclists. Here’s an easy way to prevent cycling knee pain, with a set of simple stretches – and also some basic exercises, if you want to be even more proactive!
My post called Average Joe Cyclist’s Miraculous Cheap Cure for Cycling Knee Pain is by far my most popular post ever. This shows how common the problem is.
It’s Better to PREVENT Cycling Knee Pain than Have to Cure it
One thing I learned when I was a life guard is that it is far better to prevent a problem than to deal with it after it happens (stopping a non-swimmer from jumping in the deep end is a lot easier and smarter than pulling a 200 pound man up from the bottom of the pool). So I have been working hard to find ways to prevent the cycling knee pain that threatens anyone who regularly rides a bike.
What Causes Cycling Knee Pain
It is very important to have a bike that fits your own specific body, which can most easily be achieved by getting a professional bike fitting. Notice in this table how minor problems in your bike fit can cause major problems with your knees.
If you cannot afford a professional bike fit, or don’t want to spend that much money, it is possible to do it yourself. Here is a book called Bike Fit that will show you how to do it.
As you may notice from the table above, one cause of cycling knee pain is surprisingly simple – wrong saddle position! Here’s a video that will help with that:
A Simple Routine of Stretches to Prevent Cycling Knee Pain
But a bike that fits is not enough in itself. I consulted with legendary sport physiotherapists Karen Nichols and Saqib Niaz at Royal City Physio, and was given a simple routine of stretches to prevent cycling knee pain. I can personally attest that if one does these religiously (at least after cycling, and preferably before AND after), cycling knee pain can be dramatically reduced – or even prevented. I even find that when I start to feel knee pain, I can make it stop more effectively by doing these stretches than by taking pain pills.
So this is my simple, four-step routine to prevent cycling knee pain.
Step 1: Stretch your hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thigh)
There are many ways to do this. My favorite is to hop on an empty desk, with one leg out straight and one hanging down. It is then easy to stretch the hamstring by leaning forward. Above, my daughter Emily shows how it’s done. She kindly agreed to model these exercises (trust me, she looks WAY better in stretch pants than I do!)
It is also easy to stretch the hamstrings by just trying to touch your toes, or leaning forward to grab your ankles. Or you can try lifting one foot onto a table, and leaning forward, as Emily demonstrates above. The key is to find a stretch that you can do comfortably.
Stretch each hamstring twice, for 40 seconds at a time. Do the stretches gently but firmly – and do not bounce!
Step 2: Stretch your quads (the muscles at the front of your thigh)
Some people are able to do this by bending their knee and putting their foot on a chair behind them, then leaning back till they feel the stretch. Personally, I find this hard. Most people can do this quad stretch by bending their knee and grabbing their ankle or foot behind their backs, as Emily demonstrates above. I find it easiest to lie down on the floor and bend my leg upwards. It’s basically the exercise above, but done lying down!
Again, stretch each quad twice, for 40 seconds at a time. Do the stretches gently but firmly – and do not bounce!
Step 3: Stretch your calves
The easiest way to do this is to put your toe on a big fat book and lean forward. You can also do it by leaning forward into a wall. Below, Emily leans into a wall with her toe on a box, for a very challenging stretch.
Stretch each calf twice, for 40 seconds at a time. Do the stretches gently but firmly – and do not bounce!
Step 4: Practice balancing on one leg
Basically the idea is to balance on each leg twice, for as long as you can. Make the balance more or less challenging, depending on how good your balance is. Emily demonstrates a simple balance here.
Below Emily demonstrates a more challenging balance. Folding your arms in front of you at shoulder height makes the balance much harder. Lifting your knee higher also makes it harder. And to make it even more challenging, try closing your eyes!
Balancing is a matter of use it or lose it – and riding a bike will not in itself provide enough balancing practice. My balance was terrible when I started doing balance work, but it has improved dramatically.
Apparently good balance is linked to strong, stabilizing core muscles, which help you to maintain good posture on your bike, thus avoiding cycling knee pain.
And that’s it. Just four simple steps, but they have dramatically decreased my cycling knee pain – I hardly ever get it any more. Try it – you have nothing to lose but your knee pain. And even if it does not work for you, you will definitely increase your flexibility and improve your balance!
Bonus: This video shows three vital exercises that will both prevent and cure cycling knee pain, demonstrated by ace physiotherapist Saqib Niaz:
Update: We Cyclists Also Need to Stretch Our Hips
Since writing this blog post, I started experiencing a new cycling-related pain – hip pain in what I all the wallet area. You know, the spot where men carry wallets in their back pockets. Pain so bad I thought I had some kind of wallet-area cancer. So I consulted with my trusty physiotherapist, and ended up adding in three stretches for the hips. These stretches worked like magic! So, I now highly recommend adding in these hip stretches. They are demonstrated in this video, by the trusted physiotherapist I just mentioned. Saquib is doing these on a table, but I have figured out how to do them on my bed!
One more tip: Ice Proactively
By which I mean, don’t wait for actual cycling knee pain to set in before hauling out the ice packs. I ice after every major ride, just to soothe my knees and reduce the chances of inflammation, irritation, and swelling. Use a good product that makes it easy. I have a set of Therapearl Knee Wraps that are easy to strap around my knees. Here is one of them, strapped around one of Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist’s knees:
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