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Bike The Lansing River Trail without knee, hip, or back pain

Get back on your bike...

Cycling the Lansing River Trail is excellent for your body, but that doesn't mean it isn't sometimes a pain in the neck… or back...or knees.

Are you just getting back on the bike to enjoy the spring days on our local Lansing River Trail? That’s great! Bicycling is a fantastic way to move, get fit, and stay sane after a long winter indoors. That being said, you may also experience aches if it has been a while since you have ridden regularly. Not to worry! Physical therapy is an excellent option for adults to reduce or eliminate the two most common forms of discomfort for recreational and competitive cyclists:  Back pain & Knee pain. 

To dig into riding-related pain, begin with how your bike fits your body.  If you log hundreds or thousands of miles on the Lansing River Trail each year on your bike, the best bet may be to work with a professional bike fitter. Still, the recreational or casual cyclist should check-in for a physical therapist-led bike fit and follow up with a quick at-home adjustment that will help diminish or eradicate a lot of on-bike pain and the post-ride, nagging off-bike suffering. At our clinic, we regularly help cyclists remain more active without paying for it after each ride.

What I’ve observed the most when I see cyclists out on the road, or the Lansing River Trail is that most people have their seat height set way too low. When your seat height is too low, your knees won’t be at an appropriate angle as you pedal. This bicycle fit issue will cause discomfort while you’re on the bike and, at some point- usually pretty immediately- lead to back pain and knee pain. This assumes that you have a bicycle that is the right size, to begin with. Our physical therapists near you in Old Town, Lansing, will work with you to evaluate your bicycle’s sizing and best positioning for your body’s specific needs.

Get back on your bike...

Low back pain is one of the most common complaints we hear from cyclists, whether new, experienced, young, or old.

Back pain may quickly follow if you are rapidly increasing your time on the bicycle from winter activity levels and now enjoying, say, Lansing’s River Trail system. One universal way to reduce issues is to start slow. 

Ease into time on the bicycle and begin by taking on shorter sections of the trails. Another long-term way to help yourself is to make a shift: Remember that your legs work from your ‘core.’ The lower back, abdominals, glutes, and hip flexors are all involved. 

A cyclist’s ‘core’ needs to be strong – or smaller, and less efficient muscles will be forced to work too hard. As the vital connection between the powerful legs and upper body, your entire core has a lot of work to do, so it’s always a good idea to address and develop abdominal and back strength- for just about every activity, not just biking! 

People just hopping back onto their bikes also tend to leverage the smaller muscles in their lower back area to turn the pedals, quickly overloading them. If you can learn to recruit the larger glutes and hamstring groups into each pedal stroke, not only will you find you can ride much longer and more comfortably on the Lansing River Trail system, but you may also find that you have reduced, or even eliminated, your back pain.

Knee pain is common among cyclists - though more often than not, it's indicative of issues elsewhere in the body. Let's take a look at some causes and solutions.

Another prevalent problem that arises as cycling activity increases-particularly on rough surfaces or the slatted decking of the Lansing River Trail- is knee pain. Various studies report that the incidence of knee pain from biking activity ranges from 36% to 62%. It is the second most reported overuse injury for cyclists after back pain. 

Tight calves, hamstrings or glutes, patellar tendonitis (pain at the front of the knee/ kneecap), and patellofemoral pressure due to the quadriceps-dominant nature of cycling are common complaints- specifically from the repetitive motion of the legs putting undue stress on the knees. 

Our expert physical therapists will introduce gentle and soothing techniques, muscle lengthening exercises, and individual movement therapy designed for your unique needs.  We will determine if joint trauma, misalignment, or overuse is factoring into the pain and look at how you move as a whole. Because the knee is a complicated joint, it’s beneficial to treat because you often get a really good response rate.

Let’s discuss simple exercises that help reduce or eliminate cycling-related back and knee pain as you get back out on the Lansing River Trail.

No body part works in isolation. The stretches and exercises learned with your physical therapist may not magically stamp out your back and knee irritation but will reduce or eliminate strain and start you on the road to building a robust and fatigue-resistant back. Here are some examples of simple stretches and strengthening exercises that we regularly give our cyclists, but always listen to your body and talk to your healthcare provider first.

Stretches and strengthening for Cyclists

  • STRAIGHT LEG HOLD – Lay down on your back, extend one knee and slowly lift your leg to about 2 feet off the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, keeping your knee as straight as possible without locking or overextending the leg. Lower the leg back to starting position and repeat five times on each side. Alternatively, try using a couch or something similar for support if you prefer. Extend the leg, letting the couch take some of the leg’s weight.
  • SPINAL EXTENSION – Using a folded towel or a cushion or two, rest face down over the top of them. Make sure the front of your pelvis stays in contact with the floor. Curl your trunk over the cushions until your nose nearly touches the ground, then slowly reverse the movement to extend – or arch – your spine gently. Hold in the belly and use the abdominal muscles to raise your trunk as high as you can without moving your pelvis from the ground. Repeat as is comfortable.
  • SINGLE-LEG CALF RAISES – Stand facing a wall or use the back of a chair for balance. Place your weight onto one leg – maintaining a slight bend in your knee throughout – and keep your weight centered over the working leg. Be conscious not to shift your weight to the front or either side.  Slowly lift your heel off the ground onto the toes, keeping the knuckle of your big toe in contact with the ground. Gently lift and stretch the arch of your foot as high as is comfortable- don’t push it. Hold the top position for one to 10 seconds before slowly and consciously rolling the foot back, lowering your heel back to the floor. Repeat on the other leg, alternating 3-10 repetitions.

Did these exercises help bring you even 10% relief? If so, you would greatly benefit from a FREE, 1-on-1 assessment of your individual body so we can get you back to being more active as a cycler on the Lansing River Trails and beyond!

At Healthy Consumer Physical Therapy, our therapists encourage patients to listen to their bodies. Pain is designed to alert you when something is wrong before it becomes a chronic problem, and we advocate seeking help early on. We can discuss concerns, set goals, develop an individual, comprehensive plan, and work on executing for long-term improvement. In addition, patients are given instruction on ways to incorporate additional exercises and stretches at home to improve strength, stability, and range of motion.

There is only so much you can learn from the internet.

It’s important to understand that a lack of strength, flexibility and your bike fit are all very intertwined. If you struggle with long-term, persistent, or ride-stopping pain – it’s a good idea to check yourself in with a physical therapist near you.

Bike riding is a fantastic sport, a fun way to stay fit and explore the Lansing River Trail system.  We can help you on the way to pain-free bike riding so that you can enjoy our gorgeous Michigan summer on our local trails!

Chris S

Dr. Chris Sovey

Healthy Consumer PT

"We Help Adults 40+ Living With Pain, Stiffness, Or Loose Joints Get Healthy, Age Stronger, And Get Back To The Activities They Love, Even If Past Treatments Have Failed"


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