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How do I recover from an injury and still maintain my bike fitness?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

There are many injuries that can occur and keep us out of the saddle. Here are just a few that we see in the cycling world:

1. Muscle strains (this is the general term for a muscle tear) Muscle strains are graded according to severity.

Grade one strain: A minor tearing of muscle fibres, which takes 7-10 days to repair. This level of strain will not impair gait, or the ability to pedal your bike. Depending on where the strain is, staying in the saddle and performing most of your types of rides is possible. I suggest staying away from maximum power workouts for one week after the strain has occurred.

Grade two strain:  A greater number of muscle fibres are torn, with possible slight impairment of your gait. This strain will take approximately 10 days to 2 weeks to heal. I suggest, keeping all rides to endurance-based intensity only— avoid steep hill climbs, high intensity interval training and tempo training until the end of the second week. At this point, build back slowly.

Grade three strain: This means a large number of muscle fibres are torn. This level of strain will take anywhere from 6-8 weeks to heal, and sometimes longer, depending on where the strain has occurred. If it is an area such as the hamstring or calf, which gets a lot of use, it could take a longer period of time to heal. Stay out of the saddle for the first 7-10 days to allow the injury to settle down and begin the preliminary healing process. From 10 days to 1 month — do only light endurance based training. By the end of the first month, if the injury is healing, and the pain has subsided, slowly reintroduce higher intensity riding is permitable (e.g. short tempo training). Hill repeats and maximum power training should be saved for weeks 7 and 8 of the injury.

2. Cycling crash: Produces road rash, bruising, general soreness, and sometimes swelling. After treating the cuts and scrapes, this type of injury shouldn’t keep you out of the saddle too long. If there is swelling in any of the joints (knee, elbow etc.) ice the area. Unless pedaling causes you pain, then you should be able to ride and do all types of training. The one exception is if you’ve injured your collar bone in a crash. This area is prone to breaking. If you land on your collar bone, and you’re feeling pain and tenderness in this area, I strongly suggest not getting back on the bike, until you’ve had an X-ray to determine the extent of the injury. Collar bone fractures and breaks can keep you out of the saddle from 4-6 weeks.

3. Knee injuries: There are many types of injuries the knee joint can sustain. It is a complex and heavily used joint, involved in all motions from cycling, running, walking, stair climbing etc. If your knee has been injured, use “pain” as your guideline. If cycling reproduces the pain of the injury, then stay off the bike until pedaling no longer gives you pain.

If there is swelling in the knee joint, stay off the bike, until the swelling is down. Swelling is the body’s way of  protecting the joint. The knee is central to cycling. Continuing to cycle would aggravate the injury and prolong the recovery process.

If you have a question you’d like Diane to answer please email it to [email protected]

Diane Stibbard Ask a ProAs a world-class duathlete, Diane Stibbard brings a rare combination of expertise, motivation and knowledge to her coaching. She knows that the driving force to reach any goal comes from a deep desire within. As a trainer, she has a unique ability to help individuals embrace this desire to achieve their athletic potential.

Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

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2 comments to How do I recover from an injury and still maintain my bike fitness?

  • Linda

    Crashed about 6 wks ago, and still a bit swollen. Stayed off the bike, but walked a lot even though there was pain. My age (65) may have prolonged the recovery. Plan to have a go this week. Thanks for the info.

  • Nancy Baker

    Wow, how timely! I had a bad strain 6 days ago and didn’t know just how bad. Probably a 3. I’m so glad to have a guideline on what to do and NOT to do. I would have been back on the bike much too soon otherwise.
    Thanks

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