What Can Cause Cycling Knee Pain? | Physical Therapy Effect

What Can Cause Cycling Knee Pain?

Know the Possible Causes of Knee Pain in Order to Prevent It
Apr 26, 2021

Cycling has many health benefits and can help with a variety of issues from lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease to reducing the amount of fat in the blood. It can help you build muscle and lose weight. Cycling can even help with your mental well-being.

Many who cycle, however, find that they experience knee pain. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional cycler or a beginner. Any cyclist may experience knee pain. In fact, up to 23% of cyclists experienced knee pain. Knee pain is a common ailment for cyclists, but often, the pain may not actually be caused by the act of cycling itself but instead by something like the bicycle you’re using. So what exactly can cause cycling knee pain?

Man in athletic cycling gear riding a bicycle downhill

The Fit of Your Bicycle

For cyclists, the bicycle is an essential part of their sport. It’s more than just a tool. For many, it’s an extension of themselves and is what allows them the freedom to fly down the road at speeds impossible to reach on foot. But if your bicycle isn’t the right fit for you, it can cause you pain in more places than just your knees.

Cycling can put a lot of strain on the knee if your bike isn’t positioned properly. This means finding the right height for the saddle as well as making sure it isn’t too far forward or backwards. Although some cyclists prefer to sit farther forward towards the handlebars, being too close and having the saddle too low can cause pressure on the knee that results in pain.

Increasing Mileage Too Quickly

If you live in the north, then winter weather may have prevented you from cycling for several months. If you live in a warmer climate, the heat of the summer may reduce your cycling hours. Wherever you live, it can be tempting to, once the weather is perfect for cycling, increase your training to take advantage of the nice weather. However, increasing your rides by too much too quickly can put strain on your knees and cause pain. This type of knee pain is common enough in the spring that it’s got its own name: spring knee.

It’s recommended to not increase your mileage by any more than 10% at a time. Your knees need time to adjust to an increased load because the muscles and tendons need time to adapt. The 10% recommended increase is just a guideline, however. The optimal increase may actually be different for each person, so it’s important to find what works best for you. However, in order to prevent cycling knee pain, it may be a good idea to err on the side of caution.

Outside Stress

Cycling knee pain can actually be caused by outside factors that aren’t part of cycling at all. If you have stress from work, education, family life, or elsewhere, that can increase your risk of knee pain. The same goes for other health problems or even just not being able to sleep well. Your overall health can have an impact on your body and its ability to withstand the strain of cycling and your susceptibility to any cycling-related injuries.

Patient on stationary bike

Pedaling Technique

How you pedal your bicycle can also have an impact on your risk of cycling knee pain. If your thigh tends to move inwards when you pedal while your foot and shin are further outwards, called adduction, then this may cause knee pain. Some cyclists who have an injury may cycle this way because of the injury. If injured, cyclists should be careful of their pedaling technique because adduction can cause knee pain on top of an injury.

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Mark Shulman

Dr. Mark Shulman

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), FAAOMPT, COMT, CSCS


Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.

Mark Shulman

Dr. Allison McKay

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), PRPC


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