There are a number of causes of cycling knee pain, but often the root causes boils down to misalignment of your knee and other joints.
Your knee is fairly delicate and only has a limited range of motion. Exceed these limits regularly and pain as well as long term damage can result. This series of articles will have a look at the common types of misalignment. Cycling is actually on of the best sports for your joints as it doesn’t tend to jar your joints in the way that running, rugby and martial arts do. There are many cyclists still active in their 80’s which says much!
Contrary to popular belief, the knee is not a weight bearing structure, it is actually a weight transferring mechanism. However, when misaligned, it is forced to take weight which it is not designed for.
From a competitive point of view, proper alignment facilitates peak efficiency, I.E. more speed for a given effort, exactly what any cyclist should be aiming for…. Therefore alignment really does matter!
Your effort effectively needs to transfer in a straight line to your feet and the pedal. If you are sitting down in the saddle, the force comes from your upper and lower legs transferred to the feet. If you are out of the saddle, your whole body weight is applied effectively from the hips through to the feet.
In the more esoteric martial arts, they talk about “Stringing the pearls” which is a reference to getting each joint from the feet to the hands aligned perfectly to generate the most power. Its exactly the same with cycling. If these aren’t aligned, you loose power and your muscles have to adjust to get the power down. This leads to uneven muscle development, extra effort, fatigue, and possibly joint damage.
There are a number of paths or vectors needed for optimal power. This diagram shows the most fundamental of these.
One other challenge is that a misalignment at the top of this chain often causes stress in the next joint down, frequently your ankle.
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