When one considers the amount of pedaling required to propel a bike, it is no wonder why cyclists report so many instances of knee pain. The human knee joint is a highly complex structure with crisscrossing muscles and ligaments not served by their own blood supply. Compounding these issues is the fact that the knee is a primary load bearing joint. For all of these reasons, cyclist’s knees are particularly susceptible to injury and pain. Other factors that aggravate pain in the knees include obesity, sports injuries and degenerative joint conditions such as osteoarthritis.
General Causes of Knee Pain
The human knee is essentially a ball-and-socket joint. The most common cycling-related knee injury is known as “chondromalacia”, a condition resulting from irritation of the cartilage on the under surface of the kneecap. The wearing down of this cartilage causes irritation and inflammation and inflammation is a major contributor to all kinds of pain. When the knee is bent, the natural movement causes the underside of the kneecap to glide over other bones, specifically the thigh bone and femur. If a cyclist’s toes are pointed together or apart while pedaling, the ligaments and tendons attached to the kneecap can become misaligned. In this position, the kneecap will rub up against bone and eventually the cartilage will wear down. After so many miles on the open road, the active cyclist will experience painful swelling of the knees.
Other causes of knee pain for cyclists can be traced back to the equipment he or she uses. Bicycling creates repetitive stress on the human body. Over the course of a single hour of pedaling knee joints will go through 5,000 or more revolutions. An improperly fitting bike will cause otherwise avoidable wear and tear on the knee joints. Improper foot position on pedals and using too high a gear on the bike can also put undue stress on the knees. Bicycling is meant to be a low-impact sport. Ill-fitting bikes and the improper use of machinery which propels them are contributing factors to the pain and inflammation suffered by cyclists.
How to Relieve Knee Pain
The very best knee pain treatment is to prevent pain from happening in the first place. Stretching exercises and a warm up prior to long-distance cycling will prevent many of the injuries created through over stressing tight muscles and connective tissue the body leans hard on when out on the road. Exercises such as slow pace indoor cycling will strengthen the muscles and connective tissues supporting the knee and protect against injury. Strengthening the leg muscles just above the knee (quadriceps) before taking up long-distance cycling will go a long way toward minimizing the risks of chondromalacia in the future.
When experiencing any kind of joint pain, the cyclist should suspend all repetitive activity and rest the joints until the pain and inflammation go away. Temporary relief from knee pain bought about cycling can be obtained by applying an ice pack directly to the joint where it hurts. Aspirin or an anti-inflammatory aspirin substitutes can also be effective in bringing down swelling and relieving knee pain. Stretching the leg muscles just before bed can improve blood circulation to the legs and knees and provide some additional comfort to the sufferer of knee pain.
Finally, there are reports from the field that suggest that castor oil can be very effective at soothing painful knee joints. When applied externally to the painful area with a cloth sealed in plastic wrap, castor oil can be absorbed by the skin where it goes to work breaking up inflammation. This treatment works best when the oil is massaged into the skin and kept warm with an electric heating pad.