Barrier

UNLESS YOU fall off cycling is a sport blessed with body-friendliness. But, just like any endurance sport, cycling can produce a catalogue of niggling aches and pains, which, unless properly treated, can lead to something far more serious.

The common-sense answer to any lasting pain is to stop whatever you're doing and seek professional advice. To point you down the road to recovery, we've enlisted the help of injury-rehab specialist and pro-sports physiotherapist, Barry Edwards. Together, we've compiled a list of the most common cycling ailments, their likely causes and how to start fixing them.

Ulnar neuropathy causes a numbness or tingling sensation in the hands, commonly in the little and ring finger, and often comes after long rides where you've been keeping your hands in the same position for too long. It's not just caused by the pressure from your weight but also the transmission of road buzz and vibration through the bars.

If you suffer from this, the first thing to address is your riding position to take pressure off your hands and redistribute your bodyweight more appropriately. "More often than not, the solution is to shorten your reach," says Edwards. "That way, more of your weight will be borne by the saddle."
The problem can also be reduced by wearing gloves with gel padding over the ulnar area and by adding a good padded tape to your bars, such as Bontrager's Gel Cork Tape.

If this injury has been caused by an imbalance between muscles, where the underused piriformis becomes weak, the solution is simple. By strengthening it, the tightness will ease off and often the pain too.

To stretch and strengthen your right piriformis muscle, lie on your back, bend both knees and cross your right leg over your left so that your right ankle rests on your left knee. Relax, breathe out and bring your left leg towards your chest by bending at the hip to stretch the piriformis. Deepen the stretch by nontiv pulling your left thigh with both hands, with the right foot resting on it. Repeat the stretch with the other leg.

Piriformis syndrome is known as wallet syndrome, because of where it hurts. It's often caused by overtraining, specifically by overworking the gluteus maximus muscles in your buttocks. The piriformis itself is a small muscle that rotates the leg outwards. As this isn't a movement that cyclists need to do much, the muscle can shorten and weaken. If overstressed, it can build in size to the point of putting pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing pain or numbness down the leg or in the hip, which is why it's a common cause of sciatica.

Although knee pain is one of the most common areas of complaint from cyclists, followed by back and then neck, it can be difficult to diagnose.As a cyclist, there are several common knee injuries that you can probably rule out. "Meniscus tears and damage to the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments are rarely caused by cycling," says Edwards. These injuries are more often the result of trauma, such as a heavy fall that causes the leg to bend unnaturally.

One of the most regular complaints is pain in the kneecap. "This is likely to be the overuse injury, patellofemoral pain syndrome, or chondromalacia patellae," says Edwards. "The undersurface of the patella becomes inflamed, usually because muscle imbalances move the kneecap in a way it shouldn't." If the kneecap rubs on the bones behind it, this can irritate and inflame the cartilage at the back of the cap. The same problem can be caused by your illiotibial (IT) band over-tightening and pulling the kneecap out of line, again causing it to rub against bones.

Riding in a racing tuck on tri-bars or on the drops for long periods doesn't help, and pulling the knees in towards the top tube can put even more tension on your IT band, causing it to tighten. Considering the repetitive nature of the pedalling action - up to 5 000 pedal revolutions an hour - it's no surprise a problem like this can quickly escalate into a clinical injury.

If the pain is acute, the first course of action is to apply what the experts call RICE - rest, ice, compression and elevation - and then get yourself to one of those experts. "They will treat the swelling of the knee and release the IT band but, most importantly, get to the cause of the tightness so that it doesn't recur," explains Edwards.

To stretch your own IT band, stand in a doorway with your right leg crossed in front of your left leg. Reach your left arm overhead towards the top right-hand corner of the doorway. Put your right hand on your right hip and push slightly to move your hips to the left, deepening the stretch. Hold for a few breaths, feeling the stretch along the outer torso, hip, upper thigh and knee of your left leg. Repeat on the other side.

Pain caused by neck hyperextension is normally exacerbated by positional issues on the bike, combined with lack of flexibility. "Just as you have core stabilisers around your middle," says Edwards, "you have stabiliser muscles called deep neck flexors round your neck to hold your head up. When they become weak it is left to the trapezius muscle that goes from the base of your skull to the shoulder to support your head as you lean forward. It's when these stand-in muscles become fatigued that you get the aches and pains in the back and sides of your neck."

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31-35, M
Dec 3, 2013