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Hamstring Injury Prevention while Cycling: Prevention is Better than Cure

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Classified as one of the most feared recurring injuries for a cyclist, a hamstring injury is the most common strain that any sportsperson incurs while performing paced physical activities like running or cycling.

In layman’s terms, this is basically the localized pain you feel in the calf and upper back thigh muscles when you cycle or run a lot. Cyclists face hamstring injury while cycling very often as they utilize their leg energy for movement of the cycle. We bet there is a lot about the hamstring injury that you do not know about! 

What are Hamstrings

As the word itself suggests, ‘Hamm’ means thigh and ‘String’ means the appearance of tissues at the back of the knee muscle. The hamstring is an important muscle for knee bending function and flexibility, located in the posterior of the thigh.

The hamstring comprises of four muscles, namely, the Semimembranosus, Semitendinosus, the long head and short head of the Bicep Femoris.  The hamstring muscle is divided into two heads and both these muscles blend together to run directly into the ligament through the back of the leg.

Hamstrings
Hamstrings

The hamstring muscle is an important muscle for all cyclists and one would definitely want to know what functions these hamstrings perform in our body.

What Do the Hamstrings Do

Our thigh muscles are made up of two muscle clusters and the hamstring muscle is basically responsible for the knee roll and supporting the hip extension. Performing in coordination with the other muscle, the hamstrings stabilize the knee joint.

Out of these two muscle groups, the hamstring muscle is the weaker muscle group and is prone to more injuries.

These long lever muscles basically help our knees to bend in a powerful manner and are extremely active when the body undergoes rigorous physical activities.

Hamstrings and cycling
Hamstrings and cycling

Most commonly, this injury occurs to cyclists as the knee movement in cycling is in a differently bent form.

Causes of Hamstring Pain

Cyclists often get bogged with the question, "Why do I keep pulling my hamstring while cycling?"

A hamstring injury involves a muscle tear or tendon damage that usually happens with a tearing sensation in the leg. This is called ‘pulling a hamstring’ which is the most common type of hamstring pain.

Sometimes prolonged cycling can cause a junction pain in the hamstrings, which increases the severity of the pain.

A normal hamstring injury is usually caused by a rapid accelerated movement through the legs or sudden and intense physical effort. The basic mechanism behind a hamstring injury is muscle stress overload which would mean extreme pain in the muscle fibers that get abruptly stretched.

This is the main logic behind conducting a proper warm up exercise before any heavy physical activity.

Most people who are involved in desk jobs which demand long hours of sitting in one place, usually face hamstring muscle pain. When they get up for any physical activity, the length of the hamstring, which is already shortened, causes it to get strained very quickly.

Apart from a hamstring rupture, some other causes of posterior thigh pain include nerve impairment, lower lumber disc herniation, spinal joint slippage, arthritis in the spine and lack of blood flow in the muscles.

They commonly say that ‘Cycling and hamstring injury go hand in hand’. The hamstring muscle is most active when we ride a cycle.

Well, check out the common factors that lead to hamstring pain while cycling.

Factors that Lead to Hamstring Pain While Cycling

Hamstring pain
Hamstring pain

Hamstring pain is one of the major side effects of cycling as riding for a long period with rapid acceleration can put tremendous strain and pain on the hamstring muscle. This pain might also be caused if the cyclist is peddling too hard. Pain and injury may also occur when the person pushes his muscles more than its capacity. All these factors can cause tiresome overstretching which gives rise to pain.

Apart from fast speed and much physical effort, an uncomfortable position of the saddle can also cause hamstring injury. A defectively positioned saddle puts in an inclined effort onto your lower back and that can cause severe injury to your hamstring muscle.

Overall, the following four factors can lead to a pulled hamstring while cycling:

  • Muscle Imbalance

  • Inadequate Warm-up

  • Extra Fatigue

  • Sudden Speed/Acceleration

The hamstring pain can also be of different types depending on the strain.

Types of Hamstring Injury

Muscle injuries span across a range of minor muscle contractions to complete muscle rupture, and in between these two types is the muscle tenderness and partial strain injury. The hamstring injury is usually classified in different grades according to the severity of the injury.

These classifications include:

  • Mild (First Degree) Hamstring strain:

This includes tearing of a few muscle fibers with a little swelling and discomfort with almost no restriction of movements.

  • Moderate (Second Degree) Hamstring strain:

This includes a notable loss of strength with a greater damage to the muscle fibers.

  • Severe (Third Degree) Hamstring strain:

This type of hamstring injury involves a full tear across the muscles resulting in no movement of the leg and a total loss of muscle function.

These injuries should be examined by a physician as there is a different treatment pattern for each classification.

Treatment post a Hamstring Injury 

Hamstring strains can be difficult because the muscles are extremely strong and they contract every time an athlete tries to accelerate. If a cyclist tries to return to cycling soon after the injury, there is a high chance of reinjury since pulling a hamstring is an easy task.

Minor hamstring strains heal with time as the discomfort reduces but damage can still be present.

The following are treatment methods an athlete should religiously follow post a hamstring injury:

  • Give your legs ample rest and do not undertake any heavy physical activity till the pain completely vanishes.

  • Apply ice packs thrice a day if there is a lot of swelling. This helps heal any pain five times faster.

  • Gently massage the pain area with a foam roller, while applying a pain gel. This will relieve the inner muscle contractions. You can also use a compression bandage.

  • Do not stop exercising. Carry on with upper body workout so it is not difficult to come back to the sport once the injury is healed.

  • Observe the 10% rule- Start slow and increase the pace of your exercise by 10% every week.

Hamstring injury
Hamstring injury prevention

Hamstring Injury Prevention While Cycling: Tips that can Help

There are several ways of avoiding hamstring injury while cycling. If you follow certain rules and precautions, giving a little more attention to your hamstring, the risk of injury reduces considerably.

Here are some strategies for hamstring injury prevention while cycling to dodge the risk of injury:

1. Set up a Regular Routine

The first and most important preventive measure for hamstrings would include setting up a daily routine of a good workout. Regular self-help exercises should be the first line of defense. A good strength routine would be one that specifically targets strengthening the hamstring muscles, improving the flexibility of your quadriceps muscles, and strengthening your core.

Check out the Cyclist's Routine - 5 Exercises That You Should Do

2. Increase Hamstring Flexibility

Strengthen your hamstring muscles by doing routine hamstring strength exercises including squats, curls, and deadlifts. Regular warm-up and stretching before cycling can also help prevent hamstring injury.

3. Loosen Up Your Back

The lower back is where the hamstring controlling nerves originate. It is important to take care of the lower back by keeping it loose and flexible.

4. Stability Exercises

These can also be done because they are useful for improving the communication and coordination between the hamstrings and quadriceps. This may help prevent the quadriceps from overpowering the hamstrings while running. Stability exercises include single-leg balancing, single-leg squats, and lunges.

Check out Strength Training Exercises for Cyclists

Stability exercises
Stability exercises

5. Yoga

Yoga is another effective remedy that helps strengthen the muscles and efficiently works on all body pain. Try to do some light yoga every morning or evening. This works well in making your body more flexible.

Read on to know about Yoga for Cyclists: 15 Best Poses for Stronger and Flexible Body

6. Getting Back in the Saddle

Finding a bicycle saddle in the right proportion is important for relaxing your pelvic bone and setting the body posture right. When trying out hamstring injury prevention while cycling it is also important to set the parts of the bike right to ensure you are sitting in the correct posture. The sit bones are a contact point between you and the cycling saddle and you should ideally feel those bones to see if you are sitting comfortably.

The tilt of your bicycle seat is also important for sizing up a good riding position that affects your hamstring muscles. A seat that's tilted too far forward would not provide sufficient support and would increase pressure on your hands and wrists.

If your saddle is slanted too far back, you will experience pressure on the soft tissue between your legs. You should ideally place your saddle in perfect alignment with the ground. You can tilt it just slightly forward if your bicycle position is more aggressive. This sets the saddle right for cycling, thus preventing the risk of a hamstring injury.

Check out that Ideal Saddle Height is Never Same for Two People: Find yours!

So take the right preventive measures, incorporate an exercise routine and push the peddle right to avoid those dreaded hamstring injuries.

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