Cycling Knee Pain 101: Causes Chart & Prevention
Many cyclists are all too familiar with knee pain, but you don’t have to accept it as an inevitable part of biking. Unfortunately, knee pain is one of the most common injuries for cyclists. Knee pain can arise for several reasons, but on the bright side, there are many precautions you can take to avoid it.
Understanding the potential causes of knee pain is the best way to prevent it from flaring.
Where Is My Knee Hurting?
Where in the knee your pain shows up may be able to give you valuable information about why you are experiencing pain at all.
Pain can present itself in any of the following areas:
Anterior: The anterior region is the area in the front and center of the knee, around the kneecap. Cycling pain in this area is usually the result of patellofemoral pain (PFP).
Posterior: The posterior area refers to the back of the knee. This area is less likely to be injured than the others, but pain here can result from excess tension or a strain in the hamstring.
Lateral: Lateral pain refers to pain outside the knee. Lateral injuries are most often the result of an unnatural knee movement, so they are less common for bikers. In cyclists, lateral knee pain is most often the result of iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome.
- Medial: Medial pain occurs in the inside part of the knee.Medial knee pain may be attributed to a meniscus tear, which is less common in cyclists but still possible if the knee takes a harsh impact or moves unnaturally. Arthritis and bursitis can also cause knee pain.
What Causes Cycling Knee Pain?
In reality, there is a long list of potential causes for knee pain in cyclists. Still, there are a few conditions that are more common than others. The biggest risk for cyclists is overexerting the muscles, tendons, or ligaments in and around the knee.
The following are some of the most common causes of cycling knee pain.
Patellofemoral pain (PFP) is one of the most common reasons for cycling knee pain and occurs when the tissue under the kneecap becomes irritated. Women tend to be at a higher risk for PFP than men.
The biggest risk factor for PFP is muscle imbalance or weakness, especially in the quadriceps, making PFP a more common occurrence toward the beginning of the cycling season. The most common symptoms are:
- Aching in the front of the knee
- Pain when bending your knee
- Discomfort or pain when sitting with a bent knee
- Popping in the knee when standing up
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome is one of the most common reasons for lateral knee pain in cyclists. This condition occurs when the IT band becomes inflamed or irritated due to overuse or tension that causes it to rub against the thighbone or knee.
The IT band is a group of fibrous tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh, from the hip down to the knee, so pain can occur in a range of locations.
Pain from ITB increases during activity and consistent bending and straightening. It may also result in a popping sound. ITB may result from improper positioning of your foot on the pedal.
If you have medial pain in the knee slightly above the joint line, you may have plica syndrome. A plica is a fold in the tissue lining your knee joint. Plica syndrome occurs when this fold becomes irritated or inflamed.
Symptoms are similar to other knee conditions, including swelling, a clicking or popping sound, pain, and instability. Sometimes plica syndrome can be confused with a torn meniscus. Cyclists can experience a torn meniscus, but a meniscus tear is more likely to occur from an impact or lateral bend of your knee.
Other Causes of Knee Pain
Your knee pain could result from many factors. If your symptoms don’t seem to match any of the above conditions, then you may have any of the following:
- A dislocated knee cap
- A sprain
- A torn ligament
- A meniscus tear
- Torn cartilage
- An infection
You should never try to diagnose yourself. If you think you have any of the above conditions, contact your doctor to receive a proper and accurate diagnosis.
Cycling Knee Pain Causes Chart
Patellofemoral pain syndrome
Raise your saddle to avoid excess strain on the knee, strengthen your quadriceps
Hamstring or tendon strain
Lower your saddle to avoid overextension, strengthen your hamstrings, warm up and stretch
Medial (Middle Inside)
Ensure your foot is positioned on the pedal so your knee is straight
Iliotibial band syndrome
Strengthen your glutes, warm up and stretch your legs
How Do I Treat Cycling Knee Pain?
If you experience a sudden onset of knee pain, immediate and careful treatment is the best way to minimize your time away from your bicycle. As with any pain or injury, your first step should be to use the RICE approach — rest, ice, compression, and elevation to reduce swelling in the knee. You should use this approach for up to two days after the pain arises.
Rest your knee until it is pain-free before returning to your bike. This time frame is different for everyone. If the pain comes back as soon as you start cycling, it may indicate an underlying issue.
If your knee pain does not go away within the span of a few days, even with at-home treatment, then you should see a doctor. A doctor may recommend surgery in a few cases, but most knee pain can be resolved with the right physical therapy.
You should see a doctor even sooner if you experience any of the following:
- Difficulty putting weight on your injured knee
- Discoloration of the knee
- An inability to bend your knee
- Loud popping noises with pain and swelling
- Bumps on the knee or the knee appears off-center
How Do I Prevent Cycling Knee Pain?
The best way to treat knee pain is to prevent it. Fortunately, taking the proper precautions can help you avoid overexerting your muscles and ligaments and make your cycling more efficient.
Adjust Your Bike Setup
Although anyone can ride a bike, it is vital that you choose a bike that is both the right size for you and adjusted properly. The wrong bike size and seat positioning will put unnecessary strain on your knees and greatly increase your risk for knee pain.
Always get advice from an expert before making your final purchase to ensure that the bike you choose fits your needs. Adjust the saddle of your bike so that your legs can remain comfortable.
The pedals should be far enough away from the saddle that your knees are only slightly bent when they are at their lowest point. Your knee should be bent at a 90-degree angle when each pedal is at its highest point. Any more bend in your knee means putting extra force into the joint every time you press the pedals.
Always warm up your muscles before any physical activity to reduce your risk for injury. Cold muscles are less flexible and more susceptible to strains or tears. Before your ride, do a light warm-up, like walking for five to 10 minutes, or try some dynamic stretches, like short lunges.
Dynamic stretches involve light motion rather than staying still. These stretches help promote blood flow to the area and increase your range of motion, which makes your muscles less likely to tear and loosens up your tendons and ligaments. A warm-up also helps raise your heart rate before jumping right into activity.
After you wrap up your ride, stretch your leg muscles using static stretches, and consider using a foam roller to massage your muscles and reduce tension. Stretches and light massages are some of the easiest ways to reduce muscle and joint tension, increase blood flow, and promote faster recovery.
Know Your Limits
Overexertion is one of the most common reasons for knee injuries in bikers. There’s nothing wrong with having a high ambition for your bike rides, but your body needs the right conditioning before taking on anything too strenuous. Nobody just rides their bike for 30 miles without the right preparation.
Don’t worry if your limits are not as far as you’d like — we’ve all been there. If you have a target distance you want to reach on your bike, then work up to your goal over time. Train yourself for longer distances and more difficult rides by gradually increasing your distance or elevation each time you ride.
Gradually increasing the difficulty of your rides allows you to strengthen your muscles and tendons gradually. Stronger muscles result in less fatigue and more support for your joints, reducing the risk of injury.
Incrediwear has a collection of comfortable sleeves and braces for various body parts to support athletes. With Incrediwear, you can get back on your bike confidently and without discomfort. Incrediwear products work to promote the health of the target area using Incrediwear’s proprietary technology.
This technology uses semiconductor elements embedded in a comfortable fabric. Body heat activates these elements, causing them to release ions, which activate molecular vibrations that increase blood flow.
The target area receives more oxygen and nutrients with increased blood flow, and harmful by-products are more quickly removed.
Wearing a knee sleeve with Incrediwear technology while cycling helps promote the body’s natural healing response and relieve pain to help you enjoy your bike ride the way you should. Incrediwear can provide the support you are looking for, whether you hope to treat or prevent knee pain.
Get Ahead of Your Knee Pain
Knee pain is nagging for many cyclists and can occur for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it stop you from doing what you love. By taking the correct preventative measures, you can ride in total comfort.
At Incrediwear, we strive to provide you with the support you need to stay active and pain-free. Browse our collection of cycling products to make your rides more comfortable.
Learn more about Incrediwear technology and the difference our products can have by providing relief for your muscles and joints. Explore our complete collection of sleeves and braces to see how you can support your body.
THE INFLUENCE OF EXTRINSIC FACTORS ON KNEE BIOMECHANICS DURING CYCLING: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE | PMC
Patellofemoral pain syndrome - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic
IT Band Syndrome: Knee Pain Symptoms & Treatments | HSS
Plica Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment | Cleveland Clinic