Preventing overuse injuries with the use of bicycle fitting

Authored by Brad Brown.

Common injuries can be prevented or more effectively managed with correct bike setup and physiotherapy assessment. A bike fitting session can be effective in terms of addressing a wide range of conditions that cause pain or discomfort and is totally worth your while if you love riding bikes.

If you and your bike are not a perfect fit, and you are a regular bike rider – you may suffer from overuse injuries including:

  • Knee pain – this is the most common injury affecting cyclists. It can include patella tendinopathy, patellofemoral pain and iliotibial band friction syndrome
  • Lower back pain – this often relates to the amount of lumbar spine flexion
  • Saddle pressure points – these can lead to perineal pain and numbness
  • Hand numbness – this can be caused by poor set up impacting forward body force movement
  • Poor core strength and segmental spinal movement causing postural pain relating to shoulders, neck and upper back

Bike fitting is the synchronisation of rider and bicycle to achieve the most comfortable, efficient, powerful, and safe riding position possible. A proper fit can completely change your cycling experience. This is because there are many varying relationships between a persons’ body and the way a bicycle is set up. For example, the length of the femur, tibia, arms, trunk, and pelvis rotation is different for everyone. You’d be surprised the difference even a 10mm movement in seat position or handlebars can have on your ride.

All of these measurements have an impact on the force you apply through contact points such as pedals, seat and handlebars, which impacts muscle use and efficiency. This biomechanical approach to joint angles and dynamic motion when riding needs to be taken into consideration in bike set up.

A bike fitting session with a physio can provide you with the tools, techniques and strategies that can help to reduce the risk of overuse injuries, keeping you more comfortable and in the saddle longer!

The kinds of things my bike fitting session covers include:

  • Appropriate knee angles and position i.e. less medial translation in the power phase
  • Appropriate amount of lumbar flexion in relation to a persons’ flexibility and core strength
  • Altering seat positions including height, angle of saddle and distance from handlebars to manage body angles and joint forces
  • Adjusting a persons’ technique and combining the set-up with this to prevent fatigue and postural pain, getting the rider comfortable but still efficient.

A physiotherapist is ideally trained to look at all of these, so if you’re curious and you haven’t had a dedicated bike fit, give it a go and see for yourself the impact it can make to your ride.

Brad Brown, Physiotherapist and Professional Bicycle Mechanic at Lifecare Prendiville

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