Bicycling to Help With Knee Pain

The knee has more structures than any other joint, making it very vulnerable to injury and pain. It doesn't help matters that it's also a weight-bearing joint. Factors that contribute to knee pain include overuse, an unusual motion, abnormal joint structure or a degenerative condition such as arthritis. Exercises such as indoor bicycling can help to strengthen your knees and relieve pain.

A couple ride bicycles along a scenic path. (Image: Kim Steele/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Benefits

Bicycling strengthens muscles at the front your thighs, or the quadriceps muscles, which are the key protectors of the knees. Stronger muscles stabilize the knees and enable them to absorb shock better, thereby reducing damage and pain. It's also a form of exercise that reduces rotational torque, or twisting, of the knee joint, unlike activities such as playing tennis or basketball. Also, exercise helps to lubricate knee joints, reduce swelling and suppress pain. Indoor cycling may be more beneficial for treating knee pain as it helps you to avoid extra shock from uneven terrain, accidents or disruption in your routine.

Bike Selection

If you suffer from knee pain, back problems, are overweight or a senior, you might find a recumbent bike more comfortable. They have wider seats, supportive back rests and prevent you from having to climb up onto the seat as you would have to do with an upright bike. Make sure any bike you have has foot straps, which distribute the work between your quadriceps and hamstrings. Without straps, your quads do too much of the work.

Form

Although cycling can relieve knee pain, it can also cause more injury if done incorrectly. Make sure the bicycle seat is level with the floor. If the seat points upward it places too much pressure on your groin; if pointing downward, it stresses your shoulders and arms. Place the saddle at a height that allows your knee to bend at a slight angle when it's in the lowest pedal position. It's also important to avoid sudden stops and starts during your workout, as this decreases blood flow to and lubrication of the joints.

Caution

If you have been suffering with recurring or long-term knee pain, consult with your doctor before you begin any exercise program. You should also seek medical advice if you have any existing health problems such as heart disease or diabetes. Ask your doctor or physical therapist how often you should cycle and for how long to avoid a knee injury due to overuse. Also, cycling should be only part of your knee treatment plan. You should also be doing other activities such as weight training and stretching exercises.

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