What Causes Knee Pain After Biking And How To Treat It

After a long bike ride, it’s common to feel a good type of sore. It’s what most bikers love about the sport. But, what happens if the soreness seems to linger on? How do you know if the aches are something more serious? Sharp knee pain after biking is usually a bad sign, as well as pain that doesn’t go away over time. With that in mind, it’s best to pay attention to these symptoms as they could indicate a bigger problem.

The good news, though, is there are ways to find relief. Whether you suffer from knee pain due to a biking injury or gradual wear-and-tear, a qualified pain specialist like the ones at Arizona Pain can help. This article will cover everything you should know about knee pain from cycling.

What causes knee pain after biking? 

Biking is actually a great method of low-impact exercise for runners who have hurt themselves pounding the pavement. So, how does it end up being the cause of knee pain for some people?

It’s not uncommon for cyclists to struggle with sore knees from time to time. However, if you are wincing after every pedal stroke, it’s time to get to the root of the cause.

In some cases, this can simply be the result of overuse. In others, knee pain after biking can be due to structural abnormalities or damage to your joints and tendons. Here are some of the most common causes of knee pain after biking.

1. Overuse

You’ll hear it often, but it’s worth repeating: Don’t overdo it!

Many athletic injuries are a result of repeatedly overdoing it. You love your time on that bike, but pushing yourself too hard or riding for too long without a scaled exercise program isn’t going to do you any favors. It will only lead to injuries that set you back.

Take it one day at a time. Always warm up before you ride and slowly condition your body to attempt longer, more strenuous rides.

2. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)

Often called “runner’s knee,” patellofemoral pain syndrome is the term doctors use to describe pain in the front of the knee or kneecap.

Symptoms include dull, aching pain that is typically related to a specific activity, in this case, biking. Many patients also experience a popping or crackling sound when standing up or climbing stairs.

In most cases, repeated stress on the knee due to biking will only further the pain. Many people find relief from making simple changes to their activity level.

3. Tendinitis and tendinosis

Tendinitis is commonly found in the knee due to overuse and strenuous athletic activity. It occurs when repeated stress causes tiny tears in the tendon connecting your kneecap to your shinbone. As more tears continue to occur, it causes pain and inflammation. This common overuse injury may worsen without medical attention.

While many people confuse the two, tendinosis is a separate condition, but may also be seen in avid bikers. Tendinosis shares many of the same symptoms as tendinitis. However, it is persistent or recurring in nature due to repetitive trauma to the knee. It can also be the result of an injury that never fully heals.

One major difference to know is that tendinosis does not involve inflammation. This is the best way to determine which condition you’re suffering from.

4. Chondromalacia patella

This type of knee pain occurs due to the breakdown of cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. As a result, the knee and thigh bone may begin to rub together.

People who suffer from this condition report a “grinding” feeling when they flex their knee. Dull, aching pain will also be present behind, below, and on the sides of the kneecap.

How to prevent knee pain after biking

The best way to prevent knee pain that keeps you off your bike is to treat it before it becomes chronic. Over time, lack of care and overuse can lead to more damage that causes unrelenting pain.

First, take a break from cycling and check out your bicycle setup. The height of your seat is essential to the health of your knees. Most cases of knee pain are because of a poor-fitting bike with a seat that is either too high or too low. Go into a bicycle store and ask for a professional fit. Your bike specialist should also take several personal factors into account, including your fitness level, riding style, and typical biking routine.

Take this opportunity to reevaluate the intensity of your rides as well. Perhaps you are riding too frequently or for too many miles during each session. Maybe it is as simple as changing your route to avoid steep hills that require forceful pedaling. Be honest with yourself about whether you’re overdoing it.

knee pain biking

7 treatment options for knee pain after biking

A well-trained pain specialist relies on a comprehensive, natural approach to treating pain. That means trying non-invasive or minimally-invasive treatments that target the source of your pain before turning to surgical interventions. Find a doctor who looks at the big picture. You want to work with someone who will take the time to explore a range of options before turning to more serious forms of treatment.

Some of the common methods of treatment (ranging from non-invasive to minimally invasive) include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Active release techniques (ART)
  • Chiropractic care
  • Knee joint injections
  • Spinal cord stimulation
  • Genicular nerve block

Again, your doctor should work through several non-invasive options first, only approaching invasive methods of treatment when absolutely necessary. Here’s what you should know about each approach.

1. Physical therapy

In nearly every case of knee pain after biking, a doctor will first recommend physical therapy. This is one of the best ways to rehabilitate your knee and repair the damage that comes with overuse, as well as simple wear-and-tear.

By stretching and strengthening all of the muscles around your knee, you will be able to repair some of the damage. More importantly, you’ll be able to prevent further injury if you continue a rigorous biking routine.

A reputable physical therapist can develop a routine tailored to your symptoms, but you’ll also need to stretch at home. It’s important to stick to your routine on a daily basis to ensure long-term healing and prevention.

2. Active release techniques (ART)

Active release techniques (ART) are patented movement-based soft tissue massage techniques. Experts who are certified in this technique will use their hands to assess the tightness of your affected muscles, ligaments, and tendons. From there, they apply deep pressure while you carry out precise movements that cause the muscles to shorten and lengthen.

This approach to repairing soft tissue damage has a success rate of over 90% and no significant adverse effects. Due to the increasing popularity of this technique, more than 14,000 people are certified to perform ART. Those certified may include physicians, chiropractors, massage and physical therapists, athletic training staff, and other health care disciplines familiar with the evaluation and treatment of soft tissue injuries.

3. Chiropractic care

Chiropractic care is a great way to treat a range of joint issues, including knee pain after biking. Through joint manipulation and massage, your chiropractor will work to improve the alignment of your joints.

Chiropractors firmly believe in spinal manipulation to solve a host of problems throughout the entire body. With this in mind, most chiropractic professionals will also want to work on this area to ensure proper alignment from head to toe.

Much like physical therapy, you will need to do some homework in order to achieve long-term pain relief. Your chiropractor will probably give you specific stretches to complete every day in the comfort of your own home.

4. Knee joint injections

There are two common types of knee joint injections, corticosteroid and hyaluronic acid. Both serve as another minimally-invasive option for reducing pain and inflammation. Corticosteroid injections are placed directly into the affected knee joint in order to reduce the degree of inflammation in the area. In hyaluronic acid injections, the naturally occurring substance provides lubrication and functions as a shock-absorbing cushion. Because hyaluronic acid is already present in our joints, some cases of knee pain are believed to be the result of this substance breaking down.

With both types of injections, you can expect to see a significant reduction in knee pain within 24 to 48 hours. Most patients will experience pain relief for up to three months after the procedure. Some studies have suggested that patients can receive two or three repeat treatments a year due to the low-risk nature of the procedure.

5. Spinal cord stimulation

For patients who suffer from unrelenting chronic pain that doesn’t respond to more conservative treatments, neuromodulation can be a helpful option.

Neuromodulation, in the form of spinal cord stimulation (SCS) or TENS units therapy, sends tiny electrical signals to block the transmission of pain signals from the damaged nerve to your brain. This can be done through an implanted SCS device or a TENS unit worn outside the body. A unit like this sends pain-blocking signals to the spinal cord as needed.

Spinal cord stimulation is considered reversible, safe, and effective. Surgical intervention is necessary to put the spinal cord stimulator in place. However, it is considered minimally-invasive and can usually be completed on an outpatient basis.

6. Genicular nerve block

A genicular nerve block uses anesthetic injected into one or more of the genicular nerves. This anesthetic interrupts pain signals sent to the brain and can bring you tremendous relief from pain.

The catch? A genicular nerve block’s effects only last anywhere from eight to 24 hours. For this reason, doctors primarily use it as a diagnostic tool. By blocking pain signals from one area, your doctor can determine what the cause of your pain might be. This is one way to provide a more targeted and effective pain treatment plan.

Due to the short-lived effects, a genicular nerve block is often paired with radiofrequency ablation. This type of therapy uses radio waves to create an electrical current through the body. This current delivers heat to targeted nerve tissues in a way that impairs or destroys the nerves. Together, these two procedures can offer pain relief that lasts from six months to a year.

Get back to the hobby you love

If you suffer from knee pain after biking, there are many options for finding relief. The therapies and procedures listed here are just the beginning of approaches your pain specialist may use. The right pain doctor won’t rest until they find a way to treat your specific case. Soreness is okay, but persistent pain is never normal, especially if it interrupts daily activities.

Take the first step today. If you’re in Arizona, reach out to our team at Arizona Pain for help getting back to your life.