Cycling Knee Pain

Cycling Knee Pain: a creative solution?

Cycling knee pain can be dealt with in many ways - Picture by Nicki Varkevisser

Walking, running and swimming are utterly inefficient when it comes to energy expenditure in relation to distance travelled. Numerous animals are better suited for long-distance travel, but we have something special too: our ingenuity. If we add a bicycle, humans are right up there with birds, at least in terms of energy efficiency.

There’s no denying that the bicycle is an insanely useful invention, yes, even called “most popular vehicle in world” and I whole-heartedly agree, but like with everything else, bicycling has its flaws. This article deals with cycling knee pain, its causes and solutions.

Knee Pain and Bicycling

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Train your buttocks to fix your knee pain

At first glance the influence of the gluteal muscles on knee health is everything but obvious. However, if you scrutinize the function of the gluteals closely, there will be a big aha-moment. In short, the gluteus maximus and posterior fibers of the gluteus medius are responsible for producing hip external rotation and abduction (moving the leg to the outside as in side-lying leg raise). Both are vital for knee health and here is why.

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Basic postural problems at the hip: anterior pelvic tilt

A healthy hip is very important for efficient movement, since most of the power athletes display is generated at the hip. Jumping, sprinting or deadlifting: without a strong hip you won’t excel at these activities. If we look at posture the hip is just as important, since many times wrong posture can be traced back to adaptations at the hip. It is therefore only logical to start looking for postural problems at the hip, because many other postural issues will improve automatically, as soon as you “fix” the hip.

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The central nervous system, muscle length and the lie of stretching

There are over 200 bones and more than 600 muscles in the human body. Some muscles can be voluntarily controlled; others are used without us contributing much. When it comes to movement however, we have to learn everything from scratch. So when we were born, we already had the hardware to move around, but were missing parts of the software. That basically means the central nervous system needed to learn how to control muscle contractions and how to coordinate them to create controlled movement. This stuff is stored for later recall, since it would be a pain in the ass to have to learn everything again the next morning.

Now think about this for a moment here: the CNS learns how to control and coordinate hundreds of muscles at the same time! The amount of computing power, bandwidth and storage capacity needed for that is unparalleled even by the most sophisticated computer. However, there’s a small caveat. The CNS will adapt your body to whatever you do for longer periods of time.

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Why your high top shoes cause knee pain

Ankle sprains, the common curse of basketball, have caused a curious evolution of the sports shoe. The basketball sneaker, once made of canvas and a thin rubber sole, turned into a piece of high tech equipment. Today shoe companies market their product with claims of better protection and smarter shock-absorption and yet, as many observers of the sport will know, knee and ankle injuries are still very common.

In a previous post we’ve already covered how shock-absorbing shoes cause knee pain through faulty running mechanics. To recap: the cushioned shoes actually don’t absorb anything except the information necessary for our body to move properly. As a result our running mechanics undergo a subtle yet fundamental change and we turn into heel-strikers. Now, if you’re wearing high top shoes with cushioned soles you run even higher risk of knee pain.

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Anatomy of the knee – part 2: muscles around the knee joint

In part 1 of this series we looked at the passive structures in human anatomy that are relevant to the knee joint (Anatomy of the knee – part 1: passive structures). In this post we will investigate the active stabilizing structures surrounding the knee. On the front of your body this would be the quadriceps and on the back it’s the hamstrings, gastrocnemius, as well as the popliteus. Let’s get acquainted with the quads first.

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Proprioception, shock-absorbing shoes, faulty running mechanics and knee pain

Born to Run by Christopher McDougallThere are many interesting books you come across while reading about knee pain or exercise. One book which bridges this gap while also being very well written is Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. This book is about McDougall’s own quest to fixing his running-related injuries and the original people he meets on this journey. “Born to Run” caught me slightly off guard I have to admit, because I expected the book to be more science-y and although it’s non-fiction, strictly speaking, it still reads like a novel. A novel you can’t put down until you’re through. Even if you’re not into jogging I highly recommend this book, because it’s not only entertaining, but also educating the reader. How does all that tie in with this post’s topic you might ask?

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Anatomy of the knee – part 1: passive structures

The human body is like a complex machine that is able to adapt to all sorts of environments. No matter whether you want to run an ultra-marathon or climb the highest mountain on earth, the body will find a way to adapt. The only problem with this wondrous machine is that there is no manual. There’s no one book that gives all the answers about what to do if things aren’t the way they should be. Concerning knee pain this means that finding and fixing the problem can sometimes be tricky and to understand pain, you need at least a basic understanding of anatomy.

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