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Knee Pain After Cycling: 9 Causes And Fixes

knee pain after cycling

There are few things more frustrating then knee pain after cycling. Knee pain can be serious, if you’re experiencing a lot of it, you should seek medical attention for professional help.

Especially if it gets to the point where you’re starting to experience pain off the bike as well as on it.

 If it’s only slight discomfort from time to time, or you want to prevent knee pain from happening in the future, here’re some tips.

Please include attribution to www.pinch-flat.com with this graphic.​

front knee pain cycling seat height

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1) Saddle

A great place to start, is by taking a look at your saddle height and positioning. If it’s too high or too low, too far forward or too far back, you’ll be putting considerable extra strain on your knees.

If your saddle is too low, you’ll cycle with a significant amount of knee flexion (bent knee).This will put pressure on the joints and result in pain occurring at the front (anterior) of the knee. The same problems will occur if the saddle is too far forward.

If the seat is too far back or too high, you’ll be over stretching the leg, and knee pain will manifest itself in the back (posterior) of the knee.

You’ll know if your seat is too high, as you’ll likely feel saddle discomfort. Discomfort will occur because your hips will constantly be moving over the seat to try and reach the pedals on either side.

It’s also possible that having the saddle too high will cause outside (lateral) knee pain. This is because the leg has to reach a little further, causing the foot to rotate slightly.

The rotating foot rotates the tibia. The rotating tibia is attached to the iliotibial (IT) band and repetitively stretches it. This then develops into outside knee pain.


Correct Saddle Position 

To find the right saddle position your knee should be slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke. A good way to test this is to unclip your shoes and start peddling with your heels.

If you find that you can’t quite reach the pedals when you’re at the bottom of the stroke, then your saddle is most likely too high.

If it’s easy to pedal like this, then it’s probably too low. Ideally, your leg should be nearly straight and locked out when your heel is down.

After making adjustments and finding the perfect position for you, make sure you mark it on the bike. Check it every time you ride as components can easily slip.

​Check out the great video below by Global Cycling Network on how to correctly set the saddle height

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2) Cadence

One way to decrease the pressure on your knees is to increase your cadence. Pedaling at a higher cadence puts less force through the pedals. Less force through the pedal means less stress on your knees.

A high cadence is considered to be anything over 90RPM. For most people, this will feel unnatural and unattainable. But by spending a few weeks concentrating on pedaling faster, you’ll train your body and mind. You might be surprised at how quickly it starts to feel normal.

Click here​ and here for ways to increase your cadence. 


3) Cleats

The type of cleat you select is also important. Most brands will offer varying degrees of “float.” Anywhere from being locked in one position (0 degrees), to being able to move around a little more freely (10 degrees).

Float is the amount of movement in the shoe before the cleat disengages. As a general rule, the more float you have, the easier it is on your knees.

Outside (lateral) knee pain occurs when the cleat is aligned to point the toes inwards too much.

Inside (medial) knee pain happens when the cleat is aligned to point the toes outwards too much.

It’s worth mentioning that your knees can get quite used to the riding position of your current set-up. So if you’re considering changing your shoes, pedals or cleats, it’s worth taking some time to get the position correct.

Make sure you don’t go for a long ride the day after you make big changes. Just in case there’s still a few adjustments that need to be made.

See below for another great video from Global Cycling Network on how to set your cleats properly.

Related: Best Budget Wireless Cycle Computer: A Buyers Guide


4) Custom Insoles

No matter how well your shoes fit, there’s nothing like a custom set of insoles. Every pro rider will have a pair. When they’re done properly, they’ll help to align your leg through the pedal stroke.

To learn more about custom insoles cyclefit has some great information on them.


5) Crank Length 

If you have front (anterior) knee pain after cycling, one of the areas worth considering is crank length. This is when people have cranks that are too long relative to their mechanics or body size.

Cranks impact how bent the knee is at the top of the pedal stroke, and this is where you put power to the pedal. Putting power to the pedal when your knee is bent the most puts a lot of stress on it.

As a general rule, most people should be using the 172.5mm cranks. Taller riders should be on 175mm and shorter riders on 172.5mm or less.

To learn more check out what you need to know about crankarm length.

knees hurt after bike ride

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6) Training 

Avoid increasing your training too much too soon. When the weather starts to get a little nicer, it can be tempting to go all out, especially if you’ve spent all winter indoors on the turbo trainer.

The general rule of thumb in cycling is not to increase the anything by more than 10% a week

If you start to feel knee pain after increasing the intensity of your training and you’re typically fine. You can be confident that it’s not the bike fit that’s giving you trouble.


7) Muscle Strength

Because of the repetitive, low load, one-dimensional nature of cycling, the glute muscles in many cyclists are often weak and underdeveloped. When the hamstrings are also tight at the knee, the upper hamstrings at the hips are also often weak, together with the glutes.

When the main gluteal muscle (gluteus maximus) is weak, it causes the pelvis to drop and the upper thigh bone (femur) to fall inward. This imbalance creates painful downward stress on the hip, knee and ankle.

You can build up the muscles of the posterior chain to support yourself a little more rigidly. If you think that your knee pain is as a result of the strength in your muscles then watch the excellent video below by British Cycling.

Closely Related: Kettlebell Training For Cyclists: Want To Improve Performance?


8) ICE

Ice your knees after cycling, this helps with the inflammation and also ends up creating a numbing feeling which can help subside the knee pain.

There are a couple of do's and don'ts (that article is for runners but can be applied to cyclists as well). 

You can do the icing with a bag of frozen vegetables placed in a towel or pillow case. Place the towel directly onto the knee and ice until the pain and inflammation has subsided. 


9) Foam Roll ​

Self-myofascial release, also known as “foam rolling” is a fancy term for self-massage that releases muscle tightness or trigger points. The hard working cycling muscles can get a little tense over time. These muscles can pull on the knees and cause pain.

By applying pressure to specific points on your body, you can aid the recovery of muscles and assist in returning them to normal function. Releasing the pressure on the knees.

foam-rolling moves for every cycling muscle is a great article that I highly recommend reading.

back of knee pain cycling

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Conclusion 

So there we have it, nine causes of knee pain after cycling and ways to fix them. If you've tried everything on this list and are still unable to pinpoint the cause. Professional help should be the next step.

Riding through a serious medical condition would only make things worse in the long run​. So get yourself checked out and hopefully you'll be back riding in no time.

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