Common Foot & Ankle Cycling Injuries

Over the past few decades, competitive and recreational cycling has become a popular and affordable sport. Many cycling injuries take place around the foot and ankle, and although they are almost always unexpected, many of these injuries are avoidable.

As Team USA competes in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, here are the most common injuries to the foot and ankle experienced by cyclists and how you can avoid them.

Achilles tendinitis

The Achilles tendon, also known as the heel cord, is a tendon on the back of the leg that attaches the calf muscles to the heel (calcaneus) of the hindfoot. Overuse and poor technique can aggravate the Achilles tendon, causing pain and swelling over the hindfoot known as Achilles tendinitis. Things to watch out for that may increase risk of this injury are riding with the seat too low, improper pedaling technique and poor foot alignment. For riders experiencing tendinitis, stretching and rest are advised.

Plantar fasciitis

The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that lies on the bottom of the heel. Plantar fasciitis causes a sharp heel pain that is caused by repetitive irritation to the plantar fascia. A simple way for cyclists to reduce risk of developing this condition is to raise the height of the seat on the bike. Doing so will reduce the stress placed on the plantar fascia during pedaling. For those riders already experiencing plantar fasciitis, orthotics, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and physical therapy are typically effective.

Numbness and paresthesias in foot

Numbness and paresthesias such as tingling or “pins and needles” are common complaints amongst cyclists. These symptoms, most commonly seen on the top of the foot and big toe, are caused by compression of the nerves that provide sensation to the foot. Ill-fitting footwear and overtightened straps may bring about numbness and paresthesias, so it is important for riders to invest in properly fitting shoes and loosen their straps. Switching to clipless pedals may also help riders avoid these symptoms.

Metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia describes pain localized to the ball of the forefoot that is brought about in cyclists by repeated stress during pedaling. Cyclists should be wary of pedaling with excess resistance, poorly positioned cleats and feet, and rigid cycling shoes, all of which may cause metatarsalgia. Soft-soled shoes or a soft insert may help decrease pressure and reduce symptoms.

To get the most out of one’s experience on the road, it is important for cyclists to understand what they can do to stay healthy and injury-free. Injuries are most often caused by a combination of poor technique, improper equipment, overuse and insufficient preparation. To avoid injury, cyclists should follow a few simple steps to ensure a happy and injury-free ride:

  • Ensure that their bicycle is fit and aligned appropriately and that they have the right equipment for the ride.
  • Learn how to ride in the correct position and study proper pedaling mechanics.
  • Know their limits: Doing too much too quickly is a simple way to take oneself out of the bike seat and on to the exam table.

Those training for races should find an appropriate training regimen that gives the body adequate time to rest and repair. If riders have questions about any of these things, they should consult a dealer or more experienced rider for advice.

kennedy Dr. John G. Kennedy

Dr. John Kennedy specializes in osteochondral injuries, Achilles tendon injuries, ankle instability, and ligament reconstruction and has a primary interest in lower limb surgery, particularly sports-related injuries.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.

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  1. As a follow-up, HSS offers a Bike Fit service through our Performance Center which optimizes rider performance and comfort. We use the latest in fitting technology including an Apex Performance Size Cycle and laser alignment tools to achieve the best fit. Whether you are a recreational or elite cyclist, our program will help you realize your potential. Please call 212-606-1022 or see our website, https://www.hss.edu/bike-fitting-service.asp, for more information or an appointment.

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