PTs Offer Tips in Support of 'National Bike to Work Day'

Poor Fit Can Contribute to Pain and Injury Risk 

ALEXANDRIA, VA, May 15, 2008 — With gas prices steadily climbing, commuters may find that biking to work not only provides excellent health benefits but also drastically lowers commuting costs. In conjunction with National Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 16, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is urging cyclists to help lower their risk of injury by ensuring that their bicycles are fitted properly.

APTA member Erik Moen, PT, CSCS, a Seattle-based "Elite Level" coach through the United States Cycling Federation, says, "The first thing I ask any patient complaining of bicycling-related pain is to bring the bicycle in to check for a proper fit. In most instances, a poor bike fit is at the root of their problem."

Moen says that the most common bike fit errors include saddle heights that are either too high or too low, handlebar reach that is either too long or too short, and misalignments of the pedal and shoe. He recommends that cyclists do the following to ensure that they have proper bike fit:

  • Saddle. Be sure that the saddle is level. If you are sliding too far forward from a forward-tilting saddle, too much weight is being placed on your hands, arms, and lower back. If the seat is tilted backwards, you may place undue strain on your lower back and possibly experience saddle-related pain. A physical therapist can measure proper saddle height by measuring knee angle at the most extended position of the knee in common pedaling.
  • Handlebars. Handlebar position will affect hand, shoulder, neck, and back comfort. The higher the handlebars, the more weight will be placed on the saddle. Generally, taller riders should have lower handlebars in relation to the height of the saddle. Moen notes that riders should re-examine their bicycle fit after bad falls or crashes, due to possible re-orientation of handlebars, brakehoods, cleats, or the saddle.
  • Knee to Pedal. A physical therapist also can measure the angle of the knee to the pedal. The closer the angle is to 35 degrees, the better function the cyclist will have and with less stress on the knee.
  • Foot to Pedal. The ball of the foot should be positioned over the pedal spindle for the best leverage, comfort, and efficiency, Moen notes. A stiff-soled shoe is best for comfort and performance. Pedaling is a skilled activity that requires aerobic conditioning," Moen says. "You should make it your goal to work toward pedaling at 80-90 revolutions per minute (advanced at 90-105 rpm). Pedaling at this rate will lessen your chance of injury."

Physical Condition 

"Good flexibility of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteal muscles is crucial because these muscles generate the majority of the pedaling force and must ideally move through the pedal-stroke in 80-90 revolutions per minute." He adds, "Proper stretching, balance, and flexibility exercises help with coordination of cycling-related skills such as breaking and cornering." Moen also cautions that changes in riders' strength and flexibility affect the ability to attain certain positions on the bicycle and also may require them to re-examine their bike fit.

Moen points to bicycle accessories on the market-such as softer handlebar tape, shock absorbers for the seat post and front fork, cut-out saddles, and wider tires-that help to bring comfort to the sport. "Cycling should be about enjoyment, not pain," concludes Moen. "Proper bicycle fit will minimize discomfort and possible overuse injury, maximize economy, and ensure safe bicycle operation. Proper bicycle fit will make your ride a lot more pleasurable."

Tips for avoiding bike-related injuries, photos illustrating proper bike fit and stretching exercises for cyclists, and other related information can be found via APTA's consumer page at www.moveforwardpt.com.

Physical therapists are health care professionals who diagnose and manage individuals of all ages, from newborns to elders, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. Physical therapists examine each individual and develop a plan of care using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. Physical therapists also work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

The American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org) is a national organization representing physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students nationwide. Its goal is to foster advancements in physical therapist education, practice, and research. Consumers can visit www.findapt.us to find a physical therapist in their area, as well as www.moveforwardpt.com for physical therapy news and information.

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