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Pedal Power: Knee Health and Cycling
June 08, 2005
By: Jean Johnson for Knee1
Lance Armstrong fervor plus baby boomer interest in low-impact workouts has led to a minor revolution in bicycling over the past decade. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 5 million Americans use pedal power to get around 20 days out of the month. Another 49 million folks at least pull their bikes out of the garage for a ride once a month.
Certainly that’s true for Arizonan Doug DePue who is currently pushing 50. DePue lives Thailand and bicycles the country roads outside of Bangkok – at least he does when the lanes aren’t clogged with several hundred ducks that men drive around to harvested rice paddies for slug control.
Stifling heat and humidity of Southeast Asia aside, Depue and his friends ride from 40 to 75 km every Saturday and Sunday. “I had an ACL replacement 10 years ago so I ride my bike to reduce the impact on my knees. My experience is that if I run a lot, my knee feels sore, while biking isn’t a problem,” DePue said. “One key is that I use clip in peddles that allow a larger range of lateral motion. Some peddles are more restrictive, and I assume that this would tend to be harder on my knee.”
DePue is smart to pay attention to his equipment. According to CPT Chad Asplund, M.D. and Col. Patrick St. Pierre M.D., “the smallest amount of misalignment, whether anatomic or equipment related can lead to dysfunction, impaired performance and pain.” The military researchers add that around half of all riders report some type of knee pain associated with the repetitive stress and overuse of the joint that takes place in bicycling.
“Knee pain is the most common lower-extremity overuse problem in cyclists,” wrote Asplund and Pierre. “Cycling is very repetitive; during one hour of cycling, a rider may average up to 5,000 pedal revolutions.”
Tips for bikers
|Tune up your body and bike:|
Make your bike is fitted to your body.
Keep up with your strength and flexibility training.
Target your quads, hamstrings and hip flexors.
Amp up intensity and duration of gym workouts and bike rides gradually.
If you stop training, re-start at a lower level to avoid injury.
The team strongly suggests that a few bike fitting techniques combined with careful training schedules go a long way toward stemming and alleviating chronic knee pain. Make sure the saddle of the bike is adjusted vertically and horizontally for the best fit. Check the crank arms and avoid rotated cleats. Then when developing a training routine, keep increases in distance or intensity down to 10 percent a week. Also avoid excessive hill work and pushing through high gear ratios when biking.
A pre- and post-workout stretching routine and progressive strengthening and flexibility exercises that target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors is also recommended. The key here, Asplund and Pierre say, is the same as with the cycling itself, particularly when an injury has made it impossible to ride. Take a conservative approach and go easy in the early stages. As stamina builds, slowly progress to increased intensity and duration, letting cues from the knees serve as a guide.
“A good rule,” noted Asplund and Pierre, “is that for every week of cycling-specific training missed allow one to two weeks of training to return to previous form.”
While Doug DePue thinks that’s sound advice, he’s glad that his regular five-day-a-week gym day workouts keep his knees in sound shape. “We ride for two to three hours both mornings on the weekends, and we’ve been doing it for years,” said DePue. “I’d really miss those trips if I injured my knees and couldn’t ride.”
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