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.
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.
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 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.
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.