Cycling Knee Pain: The 5 Causes And How To Banish It

Knee pain after cycling is obviously very unwelcome. Cycling knee pain can start off as a twinge or niggling discomfort, but it can become a more severe problem if you don’t address it.

Over time cycling knee pain can turn into chronic, excruciating pain that can result in time off riding. Serious cases can even lead to surgery and months of rehabilitation.

Cycling knee pain can happen to any cyclist, from commuters to triathletes. But with the correct action, it doesn’t have to affect you.

In this article, we will cover:

  • 5 Key Causes Of Cycling Knee Pain
  • How To Prevent Knee Pain After Cycling
  • How To Recover From Cycling Knee Pain

Are you ready to get to the bottom of cycling knee pain?

Let’s get into it!

5 Key Causes Of Cycling Knee Pain

#1: Saddle Height

The rider’s saddle height is often blamed for cycling knee pain. However, the relationship isn’t as close as most people think. 

cycling knee pain

The saddle height significantly alters your knee’s biometrics and kinematics during cycling. But, it isn’t the only possible reason for knee pain biking, so you may need to look into other causes too.

#2: Poor Bike Fit

The way your bike fits you is actually the leading cause of cycling knee pain. Saddle height is part of this, but it combines with reach, how your pedal interfaces with your chainset, and several other elements of bike fit.

#3: The Distance You Ride

When we take recreational cyclists into account, there is a connection between chronic cycling knee pain and more weekly miles.

It is common for less experienced cyclists to overtrain and push themselves beyond their limits. This is when they are more likely to develop an injury.

#4: Pedaling Kinematics And Gearing

The gear ratios you use can worsen cycling knee pain. This is because you have to put more effort into maintaining a normal cadence.

But with regard to muscle kinematics, your knee should move up and down along the central, vertical line that splits your right from your left side (the sagittal plane). It should also be in line with the foot and ankle.

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If your knee does this, it will remain constant and stable, pointing forwards while cycling. Also, your ankle should stay below your knee, not too far forward or backward.

If your knee doesn’t do this, you are a prime candidate for cycling knee pain.

#5: Quadriceps Activation

Your quadriceps should fire in a specific order, but it is common for them to activate in the wrong order. This can cause cycling knee pain, known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)

Cyclists with PFPS have increased muscle activation compared to those without it. This can only really be tested in a lab, but it is worth asking a physio if you get chronic knee pain after cycling.

3 Ways To Prevent Knee Pain After Cycling

#1: Book A Bike Fitting Session

As we have established, poor bike fit is the most common cause of cycling knee pain. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is book an appointment with a professional bike fitter as a preventative measure.

cycling knee pain 7

You can download apps and watch YouTube videos, but there is no substitute for a session with a bike fitter to make sure your bike fits you just right.

A bike fitter will use measurements and formulas to ensure your bike is the right size. But they will also know what to tweak with regard to handlebar height, reach, seat post height, crank length, and so on.

When your bike fits you correctly, you will not only prevent cycling knee pain but also ride faster and more comfortably.

#2: Get A Training Plan

Earlier, we talked about how training too much while being inexperienced with a lower fitness level can cause cycling knee pain. This overtraining pushes your body beyond its physical limit and prevents it from recovering.

Along with injury, overtraining can cause fatigue and burnout. Therefore, it is a good idea to seek advice from a coach to keep you on track while balancing your training and recovery for best results.

cycling knee pain 2

Improving your fitness will go a long way to preventing cycling knee pain. It is the best way to maintain good muscle kinematics, especially with a stronger core.

A weak core is the primary cause of the breakdown of muscle kinematics. Therefore, it is essential to maintain good form, even when pedaling at your hardest during every ride.

When you ride, stay strong and stable on the pedals while keeping your feet and knees pointing forwards.

But you can also help to prevent cycling knee pain by hitting the gym. Strength training is excellent for cycling, especially working your core.

A strong core, combined with a well-balanced lower body, will allow you to ride longer before getting tired, maintain proper form, and improve stability. It will also make your riding much more efficient, as your legs have a good platform from which to push the pedals.

A couple of sessions a week in the gym to focus on preventative strength training will make a huge difference. Concentrate on your legs with squats, lunges, leg presses, and hamstring curls. 

Check out these exercises to increase power for cycling!

#3: Yoga and Stretching

Regular yoga sessions or stretching should also be high on your list of ways to prevent cycling pain. You may think that the pain around your knee isn’t connected to a specific muscle. Still, there are stretches that can loosen other areas to reduce stress around the joint.

Stretches For Cyclists 1

Here are 3 basic stretches that could help relieve cycling knee pain. However, it is best to check with a professional to make sure it is the right solution for you.

Hamstring Stretch

Stand with your left foot slightly in front of your right, and point your left toes towards the ceiling, so your weight is on your heel. Bend your right knee while leaning forward, and rest your right hand on your right thigh.

You should feel a slight stretch in the back of your left upper leg. Bend your left leg slightly and push your bottom out to deepen the stretch.

Hip Flexor Lunge

Kneel on the floor, then sink into a low lunge with your left foot in front of you. Move your right knee back slightly so that you feel a stretch in the front of your right thigh.

Focus on rotating your tailbone downwards and your hip bones forward. This will give you more of a stretch. If you need more of a stretch, lean into your front foot, keeping your knee above the ankle. Repeat on the other side.

Supine Twist

Lie on your back with your legs straight and feet together. Lift your right knee up to your chest, put your left-hand flat on the outer thigh of your right leg, and place your right hand on the ground with your arm out straight. Then guide your right knee over towards the left side of your body. You will know if you get this right, as you should feel a stretch down the outer side of your right thigh.

How To Recover From Cycling Knee Pain

Cycling is often prescribed as an excellent exercise to do if you are recovering from knee injuries. This is because cycling is a much lower impact exercise than running.

But cycling is repetitive, as you make thousands of pedal strokes during a single ride. This means that any imbalance, injury, or irritation, can quickly turn into a severe chronic injury.

cycling knee pain 3

Before you start training after getting cycling knee pain, you need to take preventative action. This includes getting a professional bike fit, setting your saddle correctly, and maintaining proper form.

Cycling knee pain is strongly connected with rest days. The fewer rest days you have, the higher your risk of chronic cycling knee pain.

If you schedule in enough rest, your body will have time to recover and repair any damage done to the tissue. Continuing to train while you have cycling knee pain will cause more damage rather than make it better.

You need to listen to your body, follow a training plan and ensure you get enough rest. Men are often the worse culprits for not listening to their bodies. They often fight through the pain and don’t do anything until it’s too late.

After each ride, you may want to ice your knees to reduce any inflammation.

Get Riding Again!

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Now you know all about cycling knee pain, it’s time to take the action your knees need for you to get back in the saddle!

Understanding what causes cycling knee pain and how to recover from is vital, but the most important takeaway from this article is knee pain prevention. By following our guidance, you can stop the damage to your knees at the source!

Found this article useful? Check out more of our expert guides below!

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One of BikeTips' regular content creators, Tom lives in the French Alps. When he isn't writing, he can be found charging downhill on a mountain bike or snowboard. Tom's other passion is fitness, which goes a long way to help him make the most of the Alpine lifestyle.

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