Elbow Pain From Bike Riding

Woman riding bike with a smartwatch
The extensor carpi radialis brevis is the tendon most commonly aggravated by tennis elbow. (Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images)

Cycling should provide a respite from the stresses of daily life, not add to them. Elbow pain while cycling is an unwelcome distraction that may be a sign of a more serious condition such as lateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow. The condition occurs when the tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the elbow become inflamed due to stress and overuse. A poorly fitting bike may also contribute to elbow pain.

Signs and Symptoms

Tennis elbow doesn't just develop from swinging a racquet. As you cover terrain on your bike, shocks are transmitted up from your handlebars to the tendons of your wrists and elbows. According to Utah Mountain Biking, cyclists with tennis elbow will experience pain or burning on the outer side of the elbow when raising the wrist up or making a fist. The bony bump on the outside of the elbow may feel tender to the touch, and your grip may feel weak.

Postural Problems

Improper posture or a poorly fitting bike can contribute to aches and pains. When you stand over your bike, you should have about 1 inch of space between your body and the top tube, the top bar on your bike frame. You should be able to sit almost fully upright when leisurely pedaling, with a slight bend in your elbows. Bent elbows will make it easier to absorb shock as you ride, according to REI, causing less stress on your elbows.

Treatment Tips

Though it may be tempting to ignore the pain and keep cycling, you must rest your injured arm, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, even if that means taking a break from cycling and other sports for several weeks. Ice and anti-inflammatory medication may provide initial relief. As symptoms improve, you may find it soothing to get a soft tissue massage. Visit a doctor if the condition does not improve with rest, or if it becomes significantly swollen or discolored. If you find it difficult to perform activities with the injured arm, more serious treatment may be warranted.

Stretch for Success

Stretching the tendons and muscles of the wrist and forearms can help relieve elbow pain if done periodically throughout the day. To stretch the wrists, simply straighten your right arm out in front of you and rotate it so that your forearm faces the ceiling. With your left hand, gently push your right fingers back towards your body so that your right hand starts to become perpendicular with the floor. When you feel a stretch in your right wrist, hold for 15 seconds, then switch sides. Repeat two or three times. This stretch is also excellent as part of a warm-up before cycling once you've recovered.

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