COMMON CYCLING INJURIES:
An article in the American Family Physician (AAFP) on bicycle-related injuries reveals that most occur in males riding at a high speed, and the most serious injuries (head injuries and fatalities) are the result of collisions with automobiles. But cyclists can also suffer from overuse injuries, including those to the neck and back, hand numbness, injuries from the seat, hip pain, knee injuries, and foot and ankle injuries. For tips on fitting your bike correctly, visit the AAFP article HERE.
A report by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that even though 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involved head injuries, still only about 20-25 percent of all bicyclists wear bike helmets.
Injury Prevention and Protection
The AAFP reports bicycle helmets reduce the risk of head injuries in bicyclists and cyclists by as much as 85 percent and injury to the nose and upper face by about 65 percent. Always wear a properly fitted bike helmet (not too small or too big) that has a sticker stating it meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Other rules for helmets: do not wear a hat underneath, make sure it is level and covers your forehead (do not tip it back), and fasten the straps and make sure they are snug.
Besides wearing a helmet, there are other things you can do to help you avoid bike injuries to the head and body. An article by the Washington State Department of Transportation offers the following tips:
- Obey traffic signs and signals
- Never ride against traffic
- Follow lane markings
- Do not pass on the right
- Scan the road behind you (use side-view mirrors or practice looking behind you without swerving)
- Keep both hands ready to brake
- Dress for the weather
- Use hand signals
- Ride in the middle of the lane in slower traffic (when you are going the same speed as traffic)
- Choose the best way to turn left (signaling as a car would or like a pedestrian using a crosswalk and walking your bike across)
- Make eye contact with drivers
- Watch out for road hazards (i.e. sewer grates, gravel, ice) and cross railroad tracks at right angles
- Use lights at night
- Keep your bike in good shape (adjust the fit for your body, check brakes and perform routine maintenance)
Head injuries can range from minor scrapes to serious damage from impact sports that can cause brain damage or even death. An article the U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends medical help for people who are unusually drowsy, are behaving abnormally, have developed a severe headache or a stiff neck, have lost consciousness (even briefly), or have vomited more than once. If the accident is severe, call 911. Do not move the injured person unless it is absolutely necessary. More tips are available on NLM’s website.
NECK AND BACK:
Neck and back aches are common among cyclists due to overuse.
To reduce the chances of neck and back pain, make sure your bike is fitted properly. You may shorten the handlebar reach slightly or create a slight upward tip of the saddle angle by about 10-15 degrees. Cyclists should also regularly change hand and arm position while riding and remember to keep the elbows slightly flexed.
Most neck and back pain from cycling is generally mild. Like other minor sports injuries, the first treatment steps involve resting, stretching and taking anti-inflammatory medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
The ulnar nerve runs behind the elbow on the inside of the arm, and delivers sensation to the little finger and half of the ring finger through the palm and back side of the hand. Hand numbness as a result of bicycling (also called ulnar neuropathy) is relatively mild and occurs after long-term pressure is placed on the ulnar nerve.
Sitting upright and taking breaks during long-distance bike rides will help prevent this sports injury. An article by the Better Health Channel reminds cyclists to keep a firm, yet relaxed grip, and keep the wrist straight. During breaks, open and close the hand to stretch the muscles around the nerve.
Padded biking gloves will help prevent hand numbness as they help absorb the shock from bumps in the road. Wrapping handlebars with padded tape, such as Arundel Gecko Grip tape, can also help protect your hands.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons lists several home remedies for people who think they may be suffering from mild ulnar neuropathy, including avoiding the activity that requires you keep your arm bent for long periods of time, avoiding leaning on the elbow and keeping the elbow straight at night when you sleep (loosely wrap a towel around your straightened arm or wear an elbow pad backward to do this). If pain persists or the numbness does not go away, see a doctor. You may need to take anti-inflammatory medications, receive steroid injections, braces, special exercises, or in severe cases, surgery.
BICYCLE SEAT NEUROPATHY:
Both male and female long-distance cyclists sitting on bicycle seats for long periods of time can get symptoms for pudendal neuropathy, more commonly known as bicycle seat neuropathy. An article by Dr. John M. Martinez on BeginnerTriathlete.com explains bike seat neuropathy occurs when the cyclist supports his or her body weight on a narrow bike seat. The symptoms include temporary numbness or pain in the groin and in the perineal area, and even erectile dysfunction. Most cases are reversible and temporary, but could result in sexual dysfunction if treatment is not given.
Make sure your bike is adjusted by a professional to fit your body, and change positions many times throughout a ride or stand and pedal occasionally to relieve pressure on the perineum, advises Martinez.
Invest in a seat designed to help reduce or eliminate bicycle seat neuropathy, such as those with holes or cut outs. Check out the Selle Italia Flite Gel Flow seat.
If you think you are experiencing bicycle seat neuropathy, stop riding and wait for the numbness to go away. Then get your seat and bike adjusted properly. The seat height may be too high. Or, your bike seat may need to be tilted down a little. Once you begin riding again, remember to change positions or stop and give your seat a break occasionally.
Bicycle seats are like shoes. Get an ill-fitting pair of shoes and they are going to rub, and rubbing is what causes chafing. The same goes for bicycle seats. A seat that does not fit your body well can cause thigh chafing.
There are a number of ways to prevent chafing. The experts at WebMD advise doing whatever you can to decrease the amount of friction to your skin. Click here for WebMD’s article on “Chafing.” See our page on chafing prevention. Cyclists should also make sure their bike properly fits their body type, including properly seat adjustment.
In addition to having your bike fitted properly, you can also look into getting a bike seat that helps prevent chafing, such as the noseless design by Spiderflex. You can also protect thighs (or anywhere else) with skin lubricants, such as the kind found on this site. Or, try compression gear — shorts or tights — made specifically for biking. See our page on gear that prevents chafing.
If you experience skin chafing, don’t ignore it. Not that it is easy to ignore; chafed skin can be very painful. Luckily, chafing treatment is simple. The experts at WebMD recommend washing the chafed area, or areas, gently with water. Make sure to dry the area completely. Then apply petroleum jelly or a skin-safe lubricant and avoid further friction. If you have inner thigh chafing, wearing compression shorts over the area can help protect the skin and prevent further chafing between the legs. It is best to avoid any activity that will continue chafing in the affected area until it has healed. “Continued friction…could lead to infection,” says an article on WebMD. If the area does not get better, see your doctor.