Advice from Training Expert
Several years ago we connected with Megan Moseley, PT, LMT, a veteran physical therapist with a thriving practice in Eugene and Portland called Bodywise. She now comes along on both our Weekend and Week Rides to teach injury-preventative tactics and help riders who are experiencing physical problems. She also takes questions via e-mail from riders who are training. Here is some of her valuable advice.
Training and Stretching
It seems most of the questions I get from riders are about how to deal with pains resulting from cycling, or wondering how to prevent injuries throughout the training process. This has inspired me to put together a series of exercises and stretches to balance out the stresses that biking places on the body.
Here’s how I see it: We’re spending hours bent over, pedaling away… overusing some muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, hip flexors) and over-stressing certain joints (knees, cervical and lumbar spine). It’s critical to recognize that our bodies are machines, and in my opinion it’s our responsibility as their owners to understand how to operate them properly.
My philosophy is that everybody is created equal, and likewise every body is created equal. What I mean is, while it’s true we come in all different shapes and sizes, there are some things that are universally true. I call these Every Body’s Rules.
Think about it: Everything we buy comes with a set of instructions, warnings or rules. We all know that if we read the instructions, heed the warnings and follow the rules, we’re going to get the best results. The same idea applies to our bodies. If we know how to operate and take care of our bodies, we can make them last as long as possible and get the most out of them. We can’t expect our bodies to continually perform, and not break down, unless we invest the time to understand and maintain them. These 10 rules are the foundation you’ll need to Become Bodywise.
- Create Personal Space. Just as we humans function best when allowed our personal space, every joint in our bodies has what is called “joint space.” When a joint’s space is decreased, it can’t work the way it is meant to. This leads to degeneration, inflammation and pain.
- Listen Within. Pain and inflammation happen for a reason. They’re our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. Give up the “no pain, no gain” attitude. Pay attention to your body!
- Don’t Be Rigid. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not “normal” to feel stiff in the morning or after sitting for a while. Stiffness is a sign of inflammation. Using our bodies in ways they’re not meant to be used creates joint and muscle trauma, which leads to inflammation. By changing the way we move, we can stop the trauma and relieve the stiffness and pain.
- Know Your Limits. Our bodies are amazing structures, but they have a limited ability to adapt or compensate. I think most people “get away with” poor posture and body mechanics for a while, but at some point they catch up with us. When our bodies can’t compensate anymore, the result is inflammation and pain.
- Find Balance. Our individual joints and bodies as a whole work best when they’re balanced. This position of balance is called “neutral alignment.”
- Change for the Better. Do you have a habit of slumping when you ride? Could you use some help in the posture department? Don’t worry – chronic postures and bad habits can be changed. We simply need to learn better ways to hold and move our bodies, then practice them to form good habits.
- Be Flexible. Good flexibility of the muscles and connective tissue provides our bodies the opportunity to achieve neutral joint alignment and good posture.
- Get Organized. The organization of movement patterns occurs when all the muscles around a joint work together as a team, each one doing its job to fire at just the right time. This organization allows the body to balance and maintain neutral joint alignment during activity.
- Strive for Equality. When we move our bodies, it is important that all the joints do their fair share. If for some reason this doesn’t happen and there’s decreased movement in one area, there will be increased movement in other areas to make up the difference. The joints that move too much are the ones that become inflamed and painful, and degenerate too quickly.
- Age Gracefully. Have you heard this one? “You’re getting older; it’s normal to have pain.” I’m not buying that, and neither should you. The aging process does not have to be a painful one. We simply need to learn how to operate our bodies properly.
That being said, the exercises I’m recommending take into account these 10 rules, and are detailed on my website.
Dealing with Riding-related Pain
After talking to riders on both rides, I noticed there were two primary problem areas:
- Knee pain and swelling
- Neck and upper back pain, both with and without associated pain/tingling in the shoulder blades and hands
Given the nature of cycling and the stresses it places on the body, this is no surprise to me. But as a rider, pain in the neck and knees can be not only debilitating, but potentially damaging.
Let me focus specifically on these two problem areas, and give you some ideas about what to do “Johnny on the spot” style. I am a firm believer that the first step in fixing a problem is understanding the cause.
Let’s start with the knee. Most of the knee problems I expect to see on the ride will be what is called “patellofemoral,” which means that the patella, or knee cap, is not centered in the groove at the end of the femur, or thigh bone. This is a very common problem because the thigh muscles are aligned in a way that makes them stronger on the outside than the inside of the knee, and there is a tendency for the quads to pull the patella toward the outside of the groove. This is exacerbated if the quads are tight… which is exactly why I am a big fan of a lot of quad stretching throughout your training. Anyway, as the knee bends, the patella is pulled to the outside of the groove. This causes it to rub against the femur versus smoothly sliding in the groove. The result is pain under the patella and/or on the inside and outside edges of the knee, as well as swelling.
So what is the plan of action? Well, an ounce prevention is worth a pound of cure, but faced with this issue on the road, listen to your body, don’t push through the pain, stop to stretch your quad, ice at the rest stops and sign up to see me immediately if not sooner.
OK, onto the neck. Pain in the neck and radiating pain/tingling into the shoulders, shoulder blades, and even the arms are very common complaints with cycling. Again, the position you’re in when riding – bent forward, arms outstretched, looking where you’re going – creates a significant strain on your neck, upper back and arms. The good news is that even though the pain and tingling may be in different places, the cause is generally the same: too much extension or arching in your neck.
Here’s how it works. The vertebrae in your neck, and the nerves that pass between them on the way to your arms, work best when they are in what is called a neutral alignment. Basically, that means they stack on each other in such a way that the forces are evenly distributed. I know; you’re saying, “So what does that mean to me?” Bottom line: Your neck is neutral if the space between the notch between your collarbones and the bottom of your chin is no bigger than the size of your fist. Imagine holding a large apple under your chin. If your neck is arched, that space gets larger and you drop your apple. Nobody likes to drop their apple, right?
The “Johnny on the spot” solution? First of all, think of lifting your eyes to look where you’re going instead of lifting your entire head. If you start to have pain when riding, stop and do the neck stretches listed on the Bodywise website. The one where you tuck your chin will be especially helpful. Finally, if none of this is working, make sure you stop by to see me for further advice. Also, you should note that tingling and burning sensations are often related to the nerves in your neck being pinched and irritated. Nerves are very sensitive. It is important that you take this seriously and address the issue as soon as possible to prevent any potential damage.