There’s no need to endure low back or knee pain. Whether you’re an endurance cyclist or not, relieve pain with a few of these exercises.
The complaint I hear most often from clients who cycle is low back pain, followed closely by knee pain. Nine times out of ten, however, there is little to no issue with the low back or the knees! These nagging aches and pains can be handled five to ten minutes pre-workout with a little tissue work and muscle prep.
After ruling out disc injury via a medical professional, low back pain is often caused by a combination of over-tight hip flexors and weak glutes or hamstrings. The position on a bike puts the rider into repetitive, extreme hip flexion for long periods of time, placing the majority of the work into the quads and hip flexors. The hamstrings are often just along for the ride, and the low back will often begin to engage as the driving leg moves toward hip extension, firing pain signals by way of seeking relief.
Knee pain can often be a result of patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), caused by pulling on the knee by a shortened iliotibial (IT) track, often courtesy of shortened lateral quad muscles and the tensor fascia lata (TFL). It can also be caused by torqueing forces on the knee created by postural compensations during repetitive knee flexion and extension. Check with your medical professional, but if you’re injury-free, try the following tissue release and strengthening exercises to relieve pain.
Plantar Fascia Release:
Cycling shoes and the foot position in clips can cause issues with the fascia at the bottoms of the foot. Spending three to five minutes a day releasing that tissue can alleviate calf cramping, knee pain, and even low back pain!
Place a golf ball or lacrosse ball under the ball of the foot and begin to stroke toward the heel. Work parallel with the foot, then create some perpendicular strokes across the bottom of the foot. Use enough pressure to create some discomfort, but not acute pain.
External Rotator and IT Track Release:
Releasing fascia and muscle fibers along the IT Track and hip external rotators/abductors can relieve low back, knee, and hip pain quickly. Use a foam roller to release the muscles, and then perform two to three minutes of cross body stretches, such as supine figure four or pigeon pose.
Sit on a high density foam roller with one foot crossed over the opposite thigh. On the side that’s crossed, place your hand behind you on the ground and begin to slowly work into the outer seat muscles, paying extra attention to sore or tight spots. Then extend the leg and work down the outside edge of the thigh (IT Track) and outer quad muscle (Vastus Lateralis) from hip to above the knee.
Medial Quad Release:
Overly tight adductors can pull the femur into internal rotation and create pull on the low back and torque at the knee. To alleviate this pull, relieve trigger points and deep tension with a foam roller, then gently stretch the inner thigh.
Laying on your belly on the ground, bend one knee toward your shoulder and place it on a high density foam roller (set up parallel to your body.) Gently work into the tissue of the inner thigh working from above the knee to below the hip crease.
To get the hip into extension without using the psoas and to allow the glutes to fire properly, try a few reps of this glute bridge variation before hopping on the bike.
Laying on your back, place one foot on the floor and lift the toes (so just the heel is pressing down). Take the other leg and lightly hug the shin with your hands. Drive the heel of the bottom foot into the ground to lift both hips evenly off the ground. Contract the seat muscles, pause at the top, then return to the ground before repeating. You should feel the hamstring and glutes contract, rather than trying to lift with the quads or low belly.