Ride it right, take away the aches

By Dr Jason Chia

"I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like"
~ Queen, "Bicycle Race"

The melding of man and machine and the freedom of coasting on a road to nowhere is one of the allures of road cycling. But often to novice and even seasoned roadies alike, the experience can sometimes be marred by niggling discomforts and even painful conditions.

Neck Ache

A neck ache is common in cycling, due to tightness of the muscles at the back of the neck. When on the aero bar, the muscles are perpetually taut. In addition, the constant vibrations on the road are transmitted (from the fully inflated tires) to the neck structures. Hence, regular changes in position are important to relax the muscles of the neck. One way to stretch these muscles is to look ahead, draw your chin backwards and tucking it in.

Back Ache

Backache is a common problem during long rides. This is due to the sustained crouched position during cycling, which puts the muscle and ligament of the back under constant tension. In addition, poor bike fit might contribute to this if the seat and handlebars are too close together. Tight hamstring muscles also put extra strain on the back.  Maintaining flexibility on your hamstring, as well as strengthening your core and leg muscles can help to take the strain off the back, as does a proper bike fit. During long rides, do also get off the saddles intermittently to stretch the hamstring and back.

Saddle Sores

Long hours on the saddle can lead to abrasion, infection of the skin and also infection of the hair follicles caused by perspiration, constant pressure over small areas and chaffing. This is especially so in our hot humid climate. It is therefore important to practise meticulous hygiene on yourself, such as regular washing and drying of your cycling bibs. Do also try to keep the skin dry outside of training hours to minimise growth of bacteria and further maceration of the skin.

If you are new to cycling, allow yourself a breaking period as the discomfort decreases with time. Selection of bib (opt for a correct size so that it does not wrinkle, no loose seams, right amount of padding), seats (consider width of the front portion, padding or cut-outs to relief pressures and wider seats with support at the seat bones), as well as positioning of the seats on the frame is important. Some cyclists use lubrication on the commonly affected areas to decrease friction.

For treatment of minor chaffing, keep the skin dry and clean, as well as using antiseptic topical preparation usually suffice.  In the case of infections, topical application of antibiotics (sometimes combined with topical corticosteroids) may be necessary. More persistent infections may require treatment with oral antibiotics.

The writer is a Consultant at Sports Medicine and Surgery Clinic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

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