Indoor cycling has become a popular exercise activity over the past few decades, especially with the advent of riding classes that can be done live or virtually. Unfortunately, with the increased popularity of indoor cycling, there is also an increased incidence of injuries. However, there are steps you can take to prevent these injuries.
Indoor cycling can cause injuries to many different areas.
The most severe indoor cycling injury involves falling off and causing head trauma.
Treatment for indoor cycling injuries varies by type of injury.
You should do light stretching before and deeper stretching after the cycling session.
Start off slowly, especially if you're new to indoor cycling. Once you've had some time on the bike, increase the duration and resistance incrementally.
Our bodies contact three areas of a bicycle when riding: the handlebars, seat, and pedals. However, the human body is like a machine with many interconnected parts, so these three cycling contact points can also affect and influence many areas.
Common indoor cycling injuries
Poor technique can affect the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the lower extremities, upper extremities, back, or neck. An overuse injury occurs from a repetitive action and can occur in the extremities of cyclists.
Lower extremity overuse injuries include:
- Patellar tendinitis (inflammation of the knee tendon);
- Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome (pain at the fibrous band on the outside of the hip and knee);
- Stress fractures (an overuse injury that produces a small crack in the bone).
Knee injuries are the most common injury caused by indoor cycling.
Upper extremity overuse injuries include forearm and wrist sprains. In addition, there is one particular condition worth mentioning since it can occur from overuse, called ulnar neuropathy. In this condition, the ulnar nerve becomes compressed when it crosses the elbow, leading to numbness and tingling of the 4th and 5th fingers, forearm, and wrist.
Back and neck injuries can occur, especially when not using proper posture.
What can you do if you get injured?
Well, it depends on the kind of injury, but we’ll do a basic discussion here. With all the injuries, the first thing to do is to stop using the indoor cycle immediately and tend to the injury.
Muscle strain or ligament sprain
A strained muscle or ligament sprain requires prompt icing. If you don't have an instant ice pack or reusable kind, you can put ice cubes into a freezer bag or use a bag of peas. However, avoid placing ice directly on the skin, as it can cause frostbite.
The traditional thinking has been to use ice for the first 24 hours and then apply heat. The ice for the first 24 hours is correct, but now the consensus is to continue ice past the 24-hour mark. Nevertheless, do not use heat for the first 24 hours of a muscular-type strain.
Ice will help with the pain, swelling, and inflammation. Try to apply the ice for 15–20 minutes at a time, then rest for 5–10 minutes — always being cautious not to burn the skin.
In case of a fracture (break), immobilize the area and use whatever is available to splint the possible fractured point. Any makeshift item can be used as a splint, including wood boards, plastic, or even a rolled-up newspaper.
Deep cut or scrape
A laceration is a cut that breaks the skin, but no skin is missing. On the other hand, an abrasion is a cut with a loss of skin. The two most important things to do for either of these injuries are to clean the area and apply pressure to stop the bleeding.
In the past, people used rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to disinfect a wound. However, nowadays, neither of those solutions is recommended since they have been found to inhibit wound healing.
So instead, the following are recommendations for an open wound:
- Cleanse with clean water or saline;
- Cover the wound with antibiotic ointment or cream;
- Wrap the wound with a bandage.
A concussion can develop after head trauma. Warning signs of a concussion include the following symptoms:
- Troubles with balance;
- Blurred or double vision;
- Nausea or vomiting;
- Light sensitivity.
Avoiding injuries on an indoor bike
- Stretching is important. This includes stretching the legs, arms, back, shoulders, and neck. However, do not overstretch because the muscles are still “cold”.
- Warm up slowly. At the beginning of a ride, go slowly to warm up gently.
- Post-workout stretching is equally important. When you exercise, your heart rate increases, and you increase blood flow to muscles. At this point, your muscles are already warmed up. Therefore, this is a better time for deeper, longer muscle stretches.
- Proper posture is essential. Make sure your seat and handlebars are in the appropriate position. Online guides and videos can help with setting up your bicycle. If you're still feeling any discomfort or numbness anywhere, schedule an appointment with a professional bike fitter.
- Do not overtrain. Cycling for extended periods or with excessive resistance should be done slowly and incrementally.
- Be mindful of the indoor cycle. Even though most people like to read, watch TV, or use an electronic device when cycling, it is essential always to be aware of the seat, pedals, and handlebars.
- Pay attention. Do not stare at the pedals while riding, since it could cause a loss of balance and a fall.
- Stay hydrated. Many people sweat excessively when riding and require continuous hydration.
Indoor cycling can be a great form of exercise, especially in winter. However, even though it doesn't have the same hazards as outdoor biking, it still might cause some traumas. Furthermore, indoor cycling can be a healthy and fun way to get your heart pumping and blood flowing to the muscles when taking proper precautions.
- Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Cycling injuries of the lower extremity.
- BMJ Journal of Open Sport Exercise Medicine. ‘As easy as riding a bike’: a systematic review of injuries and illness in road cycling.
- Canadian Family Physician. Cycling Injuries.