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The most common aches and pains in cycling: causes and solutions

In one of our previous posts, we talked about the 6 main causes of aches and pains while riding a bike. This time we are going to focus on the 6 areas of the body in which most cyclists experience discomfort, the reasons why they may be caused and what we can do to relieve them. We are not going to get into detail of the problems caused by an incorrect position because, if you practice cycling regularly, our recommendation is that you have a complete biomechanical study done in order to get a personalized solution.

Neck pain

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ROOT CAUSE: The main cause is an incorrect position where the rider’s weight is not properly distributed between the three points of support (pedals, saddle and handlebars). There is excess pressure on the handlebars causing problems from the hands to the neck. Possible causes:

  • Saddle nose tilted down
  • Saddle too far forward
  • Saddle too high
  • Handlebars too wide
  • Cleats too far forward
  • Stem too long or too short
  • Handlebar too low
  • Handlebars too high

Another reason is muscle weakness in the arms and shoulders making them unable to support the weight. We instinctively bring our shoulders closer to our ears, creating tension and pain in the whole area.

A large helmet that covers our eyebrows also causes us to strain our neck upward to look forward. The same thing might happen when wearing a helmet with a visor. 

SOLUTION: Biomechanical study that helps to redistribute the weight properly. Exercises that improve the upper body muscles. Relaxing the shoulders by moving their position a bit backwards. A correctly sized helmet.

Hand pain or numbness

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ROOT CAUSE: As with neck pain, the main cause is an incorrect position on the bike that applies excess pressure on the hands

An improper position of the hands resting on the handlebars or hoods creates an unnatural angle in the wrists and results in pain.

  • Handlebars too low
  • Saddle nose tilted down
  • Saddle too far forward
  • Saddle too high
  • Handlebars too wide or too narrow
  • Wrong brake levers position
  • Stem too long

Another possible cause is gripping the handlebars or levers too tightly for too long. Doing so without padded gloves, with an overly thin handlebar tape or very hard handle grips can make your hands go numb and your wrists suffer an injury. 

SOLUTION: Biomechanical study. Padded gloves, thicker handlebar tape or softer handle grips help relieve pressure and reduce vibrations. Lowering tire pressure is also a good idea.  

Lower back pain

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ROOT CAUSE: Weak core, age-related strain, imbalances due to poor sitting posture, body asymmetries (most common in the legs) and, of course, an incorrect bike fit.

  • Saddle too high
  • Saddle too far forward or backward
  • Saddle too narrow
  • Handlebars too low or too high
  • Stem too long or too short
  • Wrong position of cleats

SOLUTION: Biomechanical study. Strengthening the core to withstand stress. Flexibility exercises. Improving sitting posture at work.

Buttocks pain

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ROOT CAUSE: In most instances, the pain or numbness is a result of an incorrect position and an inadequate saddle. 

  • Saddle too high, too narrow, too wide or incorrect saddle tilt
  • Handlebars too low
  • Saddle to handlebar reach too long

On the other hand, some problems might be caused by the bib shorts. If they are too large, the chamois moves and leads to discomfort. If they run small, excessive pressure is applied to the perianal area, causing numbness. If worn with underwear, they lead to chafing and excess moisture accumulation.

SOLUTION: Biomechanical study. Wearing bib shorts without underwear and making sure the size is right. Use anti-friction cream. Wash the bib tights after each use to get rid of bacteria. Avoid hair removal.

Knee pain

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ROOT CAUSE: Incorrect position on the bike and body asymmetries are the most common causes, but poor physical shape, muscle weakness, muscle overdevelopment, incorrect cycling shoes/insoles, pedals that limit our ease of movement, and overtraining (in terms of load and/or intensity) are also contributing factors. 

  • Anterior knee pain: Saddle too low or too far forward. Cleats too far backward.
  • Posterior knee pain: Saddle too high or too far backward. Cleats too far forward.
  • Lateral (outer) knee pain: Wrong position of cleats. Wrong saddle height.

SOLUTION: See a biomechanist as soon as the first symptom appears. Use “easier” gears. Pedals with cleat float. Train and rest properly. Do exercises for glutes and the entire lower body.

Foot pain

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ROOT CAUSE: Excess pressure caused by the shoe, the position of the cleat or an insole that is not suitable for the shape of the sole of your foot.

  • Undersized shoe, too thick sock or swollen feet
  • Tightening the cycling shoes too much
  • Wrong position of cleats
  • Lack of arch support

SOLUTION: Use proper shoes and thinner socks when necessary. Loosen the shoe. Have a biomechanical study done to position the cleats correctly and, if need be, talk to a sports podiatrist to get customized insoles.

4 thoughts on “The most common aches and pains in cycling: causes and solutions”

  1. Avatar

    How about numbness of your intimate (male) parts. I don‘t get it cycling on a bike, but always after less than 30 minutes on a spinning bike. I tried different shorts (even the siroko ones for long rides)

    1. Siroko

      Hi Davide,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Numbness can be caused by the position of the saddle: too high, too low, tilted up or down… or that the saddle is not the right one for you.

      It may also be that the handlebars are too far or too low.

      Check and measure the saddle position on your bike and try to replicate it on the spinning bike.

      Hopefully this homemade bike fitting will solve your problem. If not, you will need a professional bike fit because numbness can cause other issues.

      Regards

    2. Avatar

      I started getting male part numbness when I changed to a lower forward position. I was able to fix the numbness by getting thinner padding in my bike shorts, a firmer saddle with a cutout, and some smallish bike fit tweaks.
      I was motivated to find a solution, as I’m sure you are. Hope this helps. Best of luck to you.

      1. Siroko

        Hi Shaun,

        Thanks for your comment. Motivation is key and also comments like yours, telling your experience and how you found the solution, are very useful for all cyclists who have the same problem.

        Best

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