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The TBN #52-Ride Without Pain:Quick Fixes for Foot, Knee, and Back Problems

Read time: 3min.

By Coach Yan Busset

What I love most about cycling in triathlon racing is the feeling of speed and the bike geek inside me who enjoys the tech aspects and fine-tuning for race readiness. In training, I also love the sense of freedom, especially when going for long rides to explore new routes. However, cycling can bring aches and pains if you're not careful. This could be anything from your legs screaming for mercy from pushing too many watts, to the psychological pain of being dropped by the peloton. Moreover, discomfort can ruin the experience if you feel pain in your foot, knee, or lower back. Fortunately, these issues are often fixable with simple adjustments, provided you take a systematic approach to identify the cause.

The last thing you want during a ride is discomfort. Pain in your foot, knee, or lower back can be distracting, making it hard to focus on the effort. Don't worry, most of these problems can be solved with a bit of investigation and some tweaks to your setup.

Introducing the AEIOU Approach

In his book "Bike Fit", Phil Burt, a well-known bike fitter and former head of physiotherapy at British Cycling, introduces the "AEIOU" approach to address common cycling pains. Here's what each letter stands for:

- A for Activity: Consider whether you've changed anything in your training recently, like doing more intense rides, cycling longer distances, or exploring new terrains. A sudden increase in activity can lead to pain.

- E for Equipment: Check your bike and gear to see if anything's worn out or not set up properly. Worn shoes, loose cleats, or a poorly adjusted saddle can cause discomfort.

- I for Intrinsic: Think about your body's natural structure. Leg length differences, muscle imbalances, or unique physical attributes can affect your cycling comfort.

- O for Other: Sometimes, pain comes from external factors like long flights or insect bites, which can cause stiffness or swelling.

- U for Unknown: If none of the above seem to explain your pain, you might need to dig deeper, possibly with professional advice.

Foot Pain

Foot pain often arises from cycling shoes or cleats that are not properly adjusted. Here's what to look for:

- Foot pain or numbness: This might be caused by cycling shoes that are too tight or improper cleat placement. To fix this, loosen your shoe straps, change shoe size, or adjust the cleat to a more comfortable position.

- Foot cramping: This is often due to shoes that are either too small or too large, leading to strain. Consider changing your shoe size or removing insoles that cause tightness.

- Achilles pain: This can be caused by saddle height issues or cleat position being too far forward. Adjust the saddle height and move the cleat backward to reduce strain on the Achilles.

Knee Pain

Knee pain can result from incorrect saddle height, cleat position, or stance width. Here are some common causes and solutions:

- Front knee pain: This might be due to a low saddle, cranks that are too long, or cleats too far forward. Raise the saddle to the optimal height and move cleats backward.

- Inside knee pain: This can be caused by incorrect cleat position, excessive cleat float, or a saddle height mismatch. Adjust the saddle, correct the cleat float, and narrow the stance width if needed.

- Outside knee pain: Usually due to improper saddle height or wide stance. Lower or raise the saddle, adjust cleat float, and increase stance width.

- Back knee pain: This is caused by saddle tilt or reach issues. Fix the saddle tilt, move the saddle forward, and adjust the reach to avoid overstretching.

Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain can significantly impact your cycling comfort. It often occurs when the reach is too far or the saddle isn't properly positioned. Here are some common causes and their solutions:

- Back angle too low: This leads to excessive reach. Shorten the stem, move the saddle forward, and raise the handlebars to find a more comfortable position.

- Leg length difference: This can cause imbalance and pain. Adjust the saddle height to accommodate different leg lengths.

- Saddle choice and tilt: If the saddle blocks pelvic rotation or has an improper tilt, it can cause lower back strain. Change the saddle shape and correct the saddle tilt to avoid stress on the lower back.

Cycling should be enjoyable, not painful (only the "shut-up legs" pain is acceptable). With a few systematic adjustments and some troubleshooting, you can keep riding comfortably and reach your training goals. If you're feeling pain in your foot, knee, or lower back, try the AEIOU approach, it can guide you through the process of figuring out what's wrong and how to fix it.

If this article helped you, share it with your friends. If you're still having trouble, consider seeking professional advice to ensure you're on the right track.

Happy cycling!


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