Can Cycling Cause Elbow Pain & How to Manage It?

Cycling is a very good form of exercise. However, Improper methods of cycling can cause many discomforts. Being one of the best exercise forms, it is often questioned whether cycling for longer periods can cause any aches and pains in the body, especially the elbow. Let us look at it in details.

Can Cycling Cause Elbow Pain?

Yes, cycling can cause pain and discomfort in the elbow for some people. This is known as biker’s elbow or mountain biker’s elbow. This is another name for what is popularly known as tennis elbow. The medical term for biker’s elbow is known as lateral epicondylitis.(1) Biker’s elbow is experienced when there is excessive stress and strain over the tendons that connects the elbow with the forearms leading to pain, discomfort and inflammation over the area. It is mainly caused due to overuse of muscle attachments from repetitive movements of the hands while cycling. It is commonly seen among bikers with ill-fitted bikes.

Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Pain Due To Cycling

Elbow pain due to cycling is typically characterised by burning pain over the elbow region often radiating downwards towards the wrist and forearms.(1,2) There will be swelling and inflammation over the affected region. The symptoms worsen with time and with repetitive movements and reduce with rest. The pain also worsens with wrist movements such as lifting, grasping and gripping. There may be a bony bump on the outer part of the elbow which feel sore upon touch.

What Causes Cycling Related Elbow Pain?

As mentioned earlier, the main cause of elbow pain is repetitive motion of the arms causing pressure build up over the tendons running from the elbows to forearms.(2) Major factors that contribute to pain around the elbow while cycling is listed below:

  • Poorly Fitted Bike: Poorly fitted bike can contribute to elbow pain due to instability. Rickety cycle will create repetitive movements in the elbow and wrist area. Also, ill-fitted bike can lead to poor posture that also contributes to wrist and elbow pain.
  • Cycling Over Rocky or Uneven Terrains: Cycling over uneven terrain on a regular basis can exert shock and repetitive vibration to the elbow joints passed on through the handlebar of the cycle. This over a period of time can cause swelling over the affected area.
  • Poor Posture: Posture plays a vital role in maintaining the health of the elbows. It is important to ensure that there is about 1 inch of distance between your body and the top tube and the top bar of the frame of the cycle while standing over the cycle. It is also important to ensure that you can sit upright completely while leisurely pedalling with a slight elbow bent. This slight bend in the elbow will help in absorbing the shock while riding the bike. This exerts less stress over the elbows.

How to Manage Elbow Pain Due to Cycling?

Elbow pain caused due to cycling can be very painful and thus managing it at the earliest and in the right way is very important. The ways of managing the elbow pain are as follows:(3,4,5)

  • Adequate Rest: It is advised to provide adequate rest to the elbow and wrist joints. This can even mean completely stopping cycling and other sports which can aggravate the symptoms. Daily activities that involve repetitive movements such as wrist rotation, gripping and grasping should be limited if it cannot be completely avoided.
  • Icing the Area to Manage Cycling Related Elbow Pain: Applying ice over the area can help in reducing the swelling and inflammation. It can also help in reducing pain. Anti-inflammatory medication can also provide relief.
  • Soft Tissue Massage: Once the pain starts reducing, regular massages over the area can help in accelerating the healing process. Visit to physiotherapist or sport medicine experts can be very helpful.
  • Stretching Exercises to Manage Elbow Pain Due to Cycling: Simple stretching exercises can help in providing the relief needed. However, it is advised to consult an experienced physician before doing this. To do this exercise, one must stretch out one arm straight in front and rotate the forearms until they face the ceiling. With the other hand pull back the fingers of the stretched-out hand towards the body. Hold this posture for about 15 seconds and return back to neutral position. Repeat the same for the other side. It is advised to do this in sets of 2 or 3 for couple of times a day. A stretch should be felt while doing this exercise. It is also advised to do this exercise as a warm up before cycling. However, if the exercise feels painful do not perform the exercise without further consultation.

Conclusion

Cycling can cause pain and discomfort in the wrist and elbow region over a period of time. This is known as biker’s elbow or tennis elbow. It is a condition where there is tenderness and swelling over the elbow radiating towards the wrist often with a burning sensation over the affected area. It is caused due to repetitive shock and vibration in the wrist and forearm while cycling that is transmitted through the handle bar of the cycle. It is also caused due to poor posture. The elbow pain caused due to cycling needs to be dealt with as soon as the pain is felt as delaying it would lead to worsening of the condition.

References:

  1. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431092/
  3. American Academy of Family Physicians. Tennis Elbow (https://familydoctor.org/condition/tennis-elbow/)
  4. Orchard J, Kountouris A, 2011, ‘The management of tennis elbow’. British Medical Journal, vol. 342, d2687.
  5. Donaldson O, Vannet N, Gosens T, Kulkarni R, 2013, Tendinopathies around the elbow part 1: lateral elbow tendinopathy. Shoulder & Elbow, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 239-250.

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