Stay Safe and Avoid Injury When Cycling This Summer

Have you noticed the increase number of cyclists on the road lately? Well I sure have. Ignited by Lance Armstrong’s seven successive Tour de France victories, many have taken to the road, revisiting what was our main means of transportation as kids. And guess what? You can still ride.

After a few go-rounds on the pedals, it all comes back as a dusted-off motor plan long stored in the confines of our brains. You may just find yourself reliving the freedom you felt as you coasted down a hill with the wind in your face or recalling the one hill near home that was always a dreaded challenge. Many of us have fond memories as children of finding that new bike under the Christmas tree or diligently saving our allowances for that special new bike at the hardware shop downtown.

Well, I can attest that that new bike feeling still applies as an adult. Whether you’re a recreational rider, mountain biker, an over-40 master cyclist, competitive cyclist, or just looking to lose a few pounds, cycling can help to build your fitness level, improve your mental toughness, improve your strength, and, simply lead you to enjoy the sport. Cycling is a lifestyle deeply imbedded in health, fitness, fun, nutrition, and the joy of the open road.

So come on and go for a ride — but keep these summer safety tips in mind.

  • Obey all traffic laws. You may think bikes have the right of way on the road, but when it comes to an accident, the motor vehicle always wins, right of way or not.
  • Ride with traffic if riding on the road. Avoid busy or narrow roads, especially at peak times, and be aware of the pavement and intersections. Never swerve into traffic to avoid a parked car or object, and after checking for oncoming traffic, pass wide of any parked car in case someone opens the door into your line of travel. Wear brightly colored clothing, and use a light and reflectors if riding at night.
  • Always wear a helmet while riding. Cycling represents 7{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of all head injuries, making helmet use paramount.
  • Make sure your bike is the right size and fit. It is helpful if you are getting back into biking to work with the professional at your local bike shop to ensure proper fit and size.
  • Always check your bike before you ride, focusing on your tires, brakes, and wheels. Brakes that don’t work properly, underinflated tires, or a loose wheel can all contribute to a potential accident or injury.

Like any sport, cycling can lead to injury. Other than the obvious fall or accident, overuse injuries are common in cycling, such as:

Abrasions. Make sure you thoroughly clean any road rash, as abrasions are prone to infection.

Numb hands and fingers. Proper bike alignment is important to make sure you are not putting to much weight on the handlebars. Bike gloves and occasional position changes on the bars are also helpful.

Foot pain and numbness. Too much pressure on the ball of the foot in the downstroke while pedaling, particularly in a soft shoe, can lead to this condition. Make sure there is plenty of room for the toes in your bike shoe, and do not overtighten your straps or laces.

Neck pain. Lower handlebars or a lower riding position to maximize aerodynamics places the neck in a hyper-extended position, which may cause neck pain. Again, alternating riding position and taking opportunities to stretch and flex your neck in the opposite direction relieves the pressure of sustained hyperextension of the neck.

Knee pain. Seat height can be a significant factor contributing to the onset and prevention of knee pain. As a general rule, your knee should be slightly flexed at the bottom of the pedaling position. Overtraining, especially early in the season, or riding in too high of a gear can also lead to knee pain.

Saddle sores. There are many saddles on the market that may give you a more comfortable ride. Bike shorts with padding can also relieve some of the seat pressure on the buttocks and pelvis. While riding, your weight should be distributed between the hands on the bars, foot pressure on the pedals, and the seat. Also, seek opportunities to relieve pressure by standing for short periods while riding, shifting your point of contacts on the seat, or simply taking a break.

Whether an established veteran to cycling or a newbie to the sport, take the opportunity to enjoy a safe and injury-free ride this summer. See you on the road!

Dr. Peter Ouellette manages the Rehabilitation team at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital; (413) 967-2180.

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