You might think biking with knee pain is a painful experience. But on the contrary, cycling is one of the best things you can do to build strength in your knees and reduce knee pain.
But is biking daily good for your knees? Or will it cause more problems?
Studies have shown that low-intensity cycling can be an effective way to reduce knee and joint pain. The low-impact movements of cycling can lubricate the joints without putting any added stress or weight on your knees, hips, and ankles. Cycling can also help alleviate the stiffness that is associated with knee and joint pain.
Commuting on a bike is one of the most effective ways to alleviate and prevent knee pain while commuting to work as it greatly reduces stress and impact on your joints. If you are struggling to find an active, eco-friendly commute with knee pain, consider riding a bike to work.
While biking has many positive benefits associated with it, one of the best benefits that it has to offer is the relief or elimination of knee pain for cyclists. Read on to learn more about how biking is good for your knees and can help reduce existing knee pain.
I personally biked to my job in NYC from New Jersey every day for years and never had any issues with knee pain (even in the winter).
Is biking good for your knee pain?
Riding a bike is much easier on your knees than walking, running, or even standing, especially if you have had any of the following problems in the past:
- Knee pain
- Former injuries
- Previous surgeries
Not only is cycling a low-impact way to get around, but it also is a great way to strengthen your muscles and joints around your knees.
If you struggle with knee pain, you most likely know the agony of each and every step you take when you have a flare-up.
Another added bonus to riding a bike is that you do not have to put any stress on your knees when you ride down a hill. When you walk or run down a hill, you still have to take high-impact steps to get down the hill, and you may end up using muscles that you do not usually use when walking on a flat surface. These muscles may aggravate your knee injury.
When riding a bike down a hill, you can gain momentum and coast down the hill without using your legs and knees to propel the bike forward. If you get enough momentum, you will not have to pedal after the hill because your momentum and inertia will continue to move the bike for some time, even after you are at the bottom of the hill.
Is walking or biking better for knee pain?
While standing may not seem very stressful to your knees for the average person, putting all of your weight onto an injured knee through walking and running can be extremely painful. Whether you are standing at a station or bus stop, or are standing during the ride because all the seats are full, standing can be just as painful as walking in many cases.
When you ride a bike, the impact on your knees is significantly reduced:
- Since you sit on your backside when riding a bike, most of your body weight is taken off your knees and other joints and is placed onto the seat of the bike. Keep in mind that if you stand up to coast or pedal while biking, this will place the weight back onto your aching knees.
- Pedaling a bike in a circular motion has very little impact on the knees
Many bikes have built-in gears that allow you to control the amount of resistance, thus determining how hard you have to pedal your legs to move forward. By shifting the bike to a lower gear, it will be easier for you to pedal, which will inevitably give your knees a break.
Higher gears are great for getting a better workout and moving the bike forward quickly if you do not have knee pain, but the lower gears are typically better for those who have had issues with knee pain, as it is easier to pedal.
How to fix knee pain when biking
It is important to keep in mind that your knee pain will not disappear completely on your first day of riding a bike. Unfortunately, knee pain will not go away overnight. It may take some time and additional precautions for your knee pain to decrease as you transition into biking more regularly.
Choose a light-weight bike
Even the type of bike that you ride can have a positive or negative impact on your knees. It is recommended that those with knee or other joint pain ride a lighter-weight bike. Added weight on the bike will increase the weight that you have to move forward when accelerating and climbing up hills. A road bike is typically the lightest bike option available, as opposed to mountain bikes.
Use a lower gear
It is worth mentioning that if your knees are still in pain after you have transitioned to biking during your ride, you may want to double-check what gears you are using. Make sure you are using low-impact gears if you have knee pain, at least in the beginning.
Fixing knee pain by location
After you have determined the location of your knee pain, you can address the issue and make adjustments as needed.
To fix front (anterior) knee pain
- Adjust the seat: Anterior knee pain usually results from the seat being too low and too far forward.
- Shorten the cranks: If the cranks are too long for the length of your legs, then the knee joints can become too tight, causing pain.
- Utilize foam rolling: Since anterior knee pain can often come from muscle tightness, using a muscle roller can help to loosen the muscles.
To fix back (posterior) knee pain
In contrast, back (posterior) knee pain usually comes from a seat that is too high and too far back. Adjusting the seat can be a huge help. Foam rolling can also help for posterior pain; focus on rolling out the hamstrings as opposed to the quadriceps. Icing may also provide relief.
To fix side (medial) knee pain
Cleat positioning, in addition to tight muscles, can be a major culprit for pain along the sides of the knee. The cleats should be set in a straight, neutral position so that they are directly under the ball of the foot.
Exercises that strengthen your core and glutes can help prevent your knees from overcompensating. Too much work for your knees can naturally be a huge cause of pain.
How to ride a bike properly with knee pain
There are a few further precautions you can take to keep your knees more comfortable when biking to work:
- Have the correct height for your seat.
- If you have knee pain, try to minimize the amount of standing that you do on the bike.
- Minimize the amount of quick acceleration (sprinting)
Even though seat height is one of the easiest adjustments to make, it can be one of the most important. If your seat is too high or too low, it will be more strenuous on your knees. A good way to estimate how high your seat should be is by using the heel-to-pedal method.
Heel-to-pedal method (perfect seat height)
Simply lean your bike against a wall, sit on the seat, and place one of your feet to the lowest position that you can pedal. When your foot is positioned at the bottom and you are sitting on the seat, your knee should be straight.
When riding the bike, try to sit on the seat as much as possible to minimize the weight and pressure that is placed on your legs, It may be tempting to stand up and pedal when you are tired or have to go up a hill, but this will only hurt your knees.
If you ever have any questions or would like more suggestions, consider taking your bike to your local bicycle shop. A professional can help you even more in regards to your seat height, which gears to use, or can make recommendations based on your specific condition.
Bike commuting vs. other options for knee pain
Around 5 percent of Americans commute to work by using public transportation, by biking, or by walking. This percentage jumps up in larger cities as higher populations result in higher concentrations of commuters since buildings and destinations can be closer together.
If you suffer from knee pain, commuting without a car can be very difficult and painful.
- Not only do you have to walk to bus or train stops on your sore knees, these commuting methods also involve a lot of standing on your feet.
- You may even be putting your knees through extra weight and stress by carrying a briefcase or backpack.
While many people may assume that buying a car for your commute is a simple solution, it can come with unseen expenses. Buying a car can cause money problems for many reasons. Aside from a large initial lump sum just to drive off the lot, you must make monthly payments and invest in car insurance, gas, maintenance, and more.
Not only is this expensive, but it is inconvenient if you live in a big city with congested traffic and high parking costs. If commuting is taking a toll on your knees, the best option is to ride a bike. Not only is this significantly cheaper than buying a car, but it is also more convenient and eco-friendly for big cities and will help alleviate your knee pain.
Biking is an effective way to reduce your knee pain and prevent future knee pain. It is an effective way to reduce the amount of stress placed on your knee joints and minimize the amount of weight on your knees. It is a low-impact commuting option that is great for individuals who have knee pain.