There’s nothing quite like going for a long bike ride to work the body, clear the mind, and enjoy the great outdoors. Many avid cyclists are afraid to continue their passion for biking once they receive an arthritis diagnosis. But for arthritis sufferers, cycling can be one of the best low-impact aerobic exercises that they can do to keep their joints healthy and strong.
Can Cycling Lower The Risk of Arthritis?
Compared to other types of exercise, cycling may actually be able to prevent or delay the onset of arthritis before it becomes symptomatic.1,2,3 One orthopedic surgeon, Rob Middleton, has written about how cycling regularly can prevent muscle from wasting away, delay the onset of arthritis, and reduce arthritis’ effects.4 Although professional cyclists often exhibit arthritis symptoms,5 people who bike at normal and moderate levels have an advantage over those who never hop on a bike.1,2
The Movements of Cycling
However, unlike walking or running, cycling is a more “unnatural” activity for the human body. A bicycle is a man-made transportation and recreation device that the body must adapt to over time. But the advantage here is that bikes can be designed to promote optimal joint health and put less strain on the joints for longer rides.1,2,6
Also unlike running or walking, which can be painful for people who have arthritis pain in the feet, ankles, and hips, cycling works the knees more than anything else. The knees are the largest joints in the body and are typically stronger than other joints that are smaller and weaker. Dr. Middleton has also explained how non-load bearing exercises, like cycling, are often more beneficial than even using high-tech stem-cell treatment and nanotechnology to repair joints.4
The Importance of Strengthening the Legs
One reason that cycling is so good for arthritis sufferers is that by strengthening the muscles in the legs, joints are the knees are simultaneously being kept healthy and strong.6 Strong legs are generally less prone to developing arthritis, and arthritis pain symptoms are often more manageable.
To build up cycling strength, there are certain leg exercises that can be done to support joint, bone, and muscle health.7 Body weight exercises, like planks with different variations, can help cycling strength and confidence. Lunges, squats, leg lifts, burpees, and single-leg deadlifts are also great strengthening exercises to support the legs.
Preventative Measures for Cyclists
Although cycling is a recommended exercise for arthritis sufferers, there are some preventative measures that cyclists should be aware of. To alleviate pain in your joints and make it easier to pedal on your bike, use JointFlex before your ride, especially on your knees. Knee injuries and pain may be prevented by building up your pedaling time gradually, adjusting your seat height, and pedaling in lower gears.
But it’s important to remember that many joints get worked when you bike, not just your knees. To prevent hand pain from gripping the handlebars, change hand positions frequently and wear padded gloves to reduce the vibrations.8 To prevent shoulder pain, build up to longer rides slowly and keep your elbows flexed to reduce shocks to the arms and shoulders. Stretching before and after your rides is also a smart idea to warm up and cool down your joints.
REFERENCES for JOINT PAIN RELATED to BIKING and CYCLING
1. Biking is great for your joints. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from http://blog.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/biking-exercise-for-arthritis/.
2. Biking. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/arthritis-friendly/biking.php.
3. Cycling – health benefits. Better Health Channel. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/cycling-health-benefits.
4. MacMichael, S. (2011 December 15). Regular cycling can ward off arthritis and reduce effects, says hospital consultant and orthopaedic surgeon. Road.CC. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from https://road.cc/content/news/49150-regular-cycling-can-ward-arthritis-and-reduce-effects-says-consultant-surgeon.
5. Thrasybule, L. (2011 December 16). Elite athletes at greater risk for arthritis. Reuters. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-elite-athletes-arthritis/elite-athletes-at-greater-risk-for-arthritis-idUSTRE7BF24920111216.
6. The top 5 benefits of cycling. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-top-5-benefits-of-cycling.
7. Kehlenbach, D. 8 Single-leg exercises to increase cycling power. Active. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from https://www.active.com/cycling/articles/8-single-leg-exercises-to-increase-cycling-power/slide-8.
8. Cycling – preventing injury. Better Health Channel. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/cycling-preventing-injury.
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