How to Prevent Cycling Knee Problems

How to Prevent Cycling Knee Problems
There are many sources of knee pain in cycling. Most problems stem from bike fit. Other measures can be taken to prevent knee trouble, the most urgent being orthotics, especially if one has fallen arches. Insufficient clothing in cold weather also causes knee problems, as does inadequate warm-up. This is because tendons are brittle if cold, and they don't have the blood supply that muscles need to keep warm. Specialized products are available to prevent knee problems, such as LeWedge splints and rotating pedals.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Bike Position

Things You’ll Need:
  • Orthotics
  • Pedals that rotate
  • Plumb line
  • Saddle and cleat wrenches
  • Bike clothing covering knees
  • Leg extension machine
Step 1
Get a professional bike fit at a bike shop in the off-season. (Off-season is preferable because it gives your body time to adjust.)
Step 2
Raise the saddle so that the leg is just slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Too low of a saddle can lead to pain in the front of the knee. Too high can cause pain in the back of the knee, from overextension.
Step 3
Position the saddle fore-and-aft so that, with the pedal at 3 o'clock, a plumb line drops from the front of the knee approximately through the pedal axle.
Step 4
Position the cleat. There are two schools of thought on cleat position. The older one places the ball of the foot over the pedal axle. A newer school of thought places the foot a little farther forward, since the force isn't transmitted just at the ball of the foot but instead by the full width of the foot where the toes insert. Modern shoes are stiff enough that hot spots generally won't occur if the axle aligns with the middle of this length.
Step 5
Get pedals that rotate. This reduces stress from the knee's being locked into position. Brands with superior range include Speedplay and Time.


Step 1
Get orthotics from a podiatrist to prevent the foot from flattening under load, if you have fallen arches (also known as flat feet or foot pronation). Pronation twists the tibia and causes patellar tendinitis. (The patella is the kneecap bone. The patellar tendon encases the patella and connects the quads to the tibia.)
Step 2
Get LeWedge inserts if the fore of your feet are not naturally level. LeWedge fits between the shoe and the cleat. They perform a function similar to orthotics, preventing lateral motion at the knee. They don't support the arch, so may need to be combined with orthotics for those cyclists with weak arches.
Step 3
Get professionally fitted when getting cleat inserts, since it is hard to judge the smoothness and alignment of one's own pedal stroke.

Warm-up and Clothing

Step 1
Warm up slowly and for an extended period. The vastus medialis needs to be activated during warm-up, since it is important in the tracking of the patella. This is why knees can ache at the start of a warm-up but feel fine at the end of it.
Step 2
Cover your knees. There is a saying in cycling: "Below 70 degrees, cover your knees." The patellar tendon on the front of the knee feels the brunt of the cold, especially since it has minimal blood flow. This can be felt in the difference between the temperature of the patella and the quads. Clothing available to do so includes tights that come only over your knee. Knee covers are less popular, since they don't stay up well on unshaven legs. Fleece is available in the knee part of some tights. In severe cold, neoprene knee supports (the material used in scuba suits) are helpful.
Step 3
Warm up separately before meeting friends, if your friends warm up too fast. Warming up the patellar tendon with blood flow avoids microtears from placing a heavy load on knees not yet warm enough.

Strength and Stretching

Step 1
Keep the vastus medialis strong. Its strength is essential for proper tracking of the patellar tendon, since it must be pulled inward in the middle of the quads' contraction. Leg extensions are suitable, if the unstable points at 90 and 180 degrees are avoided.
Step 2
Exercise the vastus medialis during layoffs. The V.M. atrophies quickly because it is not used significantly in everyday walking. (Note the difference in its size between joggers and cyclists.)
Step 3
Stretch the hamstrings, calves and vastus lateralis. Their tightness can cause mistracking more than a tight vastus intermedius or medialis can, especially tight hamstrings. This is surprising given their distance from the patella, but then flat feet are even farther away.

Article Written By Paul Dohrman

Paul Dohrman's academic background is in physics and economics. He has professional experience as an educator, mortgage consultant, and casualty actuary. His interests include development economics, technology-based charities, and angel investing.

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