What Causes Hamstring Pain When Cycling?

As you spend more time in the saddle, little aches and pains are bound to crop up. Comfort and injury-prevention while cycling can take some trial and error as you get your bike properly dialed in and discover the best saddle, shoes, cleats and other gear for your body. The hamstrings are a common source of pain for both new and veteran cyclists, and since they're in on the action of every pedal stroke, it's important to pay attention when these powerhouses start to hurt.

Two cyclists on a trail. (Image: Huntstock/DisabilityImages/Getty Images)

Hamstring Injury

Strains, pulls and tears can occur when a cyclist overworks the hamstring muscles over a period of time, either by pedaling in a gear that's too hard, keeping a cadence that's too low, or simply pushing the muscles to do too much, too soon. These injuries occur when there are microscopic tears in the muscle from repetitive over-stretching. Treatment for hamstring injuries include rest, ice, compression and elevation. When pain subsists, medical treatment may be needed.

Saddle Position

The importance of a professional bike fitting cannot be overstated. Tiny physiological imbalances can occur when your body positioning is off just slightly, wreaking havoc over time. A common source of hamstring pain is an improperly adjusted saddle. According to Anna Saltonstall, a physical therapist at Mid-Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles, Oregon, if your saddle is too far back, it can cause you to overuse your hamstrings and glutes. If it's too high, your hamstrings are overstretched with each pedal stroke. Both of these instances can cause pain and injury over time.

Sciatica

In some instances, cyclists may experience pain in the hamstrings that's not actually caused by the hamstrings at all. This condition, known as sciatica, occurs when pain radiates down the sciatic nerve and is often due to disc herniation. Bulges in vertebral discs can come in contact with sciatic nerve roots and cause irritation and pain in the lower body, including the hamstrings. If standard R.I.C.E. treatment doesn't bring relief to hamstring pain, see your physician to rule out spinal injury.

Stretch and Strengthen

Strengthening your hamstrings is a good way to prevent cycling injuries. Slowly progress training load and frequency to avoid overuse injuries. Resistance exercises, including squats, deadlifts and hamstring curls are effective ways to improve hamstring strength. Stretching can also help prevent nagging hamstring injuries. Stretch your lower hamstrings by lying on the floor with your legs extended straight. Loop a towel or belt around the bottom of your right foot and slowly pull your right leg straight up until it's perpendicular to the floor. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the left foot. Complete a total of three stretches on each leg.

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