How can Sports Massage and Deep Tissue Massage help prevent chronic cycling injuries?
This year’s Tour de France is well under way, and if you’re anything like me, you are enjoying the TV coverage every day, and are probably feeling more and more inspired by watching these incredible athletes to climb a mountain or two of your own. I’m all for it! But before you don your commemorative maillot jaune and head out on an epic journey, be forewarned: cycling is a very strenuous and taxing activity on the whole body, and requires a good deal of physical preparation and conditioning to avoid injury. Riders usually spend extended periods of time – often, several hours at a time – in the saddle. The activity uses many muscle groups; pretty much the entire body is engaged at one point or another. And because all the cyclists I know like to take their bike out a lot – several times a week, if not daily – muscle tissue damage is often sustained by not having enough recovery time between rides.
So it’s not surprising that the Wall Street Journal puts Cycling as the sport 4th most likely to cause an injury (behind basketball, soccer, and softball), with 4.1 in 1,000 riders registering some kind of physical complaint. To be fair, a good number of these are due to crashes, but there are plenty of misuse and overuse considerations. In cycling, the legs are particularly burdened, often resulting in soreness and cramping. Repetitive motions can often result in overuse injuries to the joints. And the upper back and shoulders often suffer from being forced into an unnatural position for long periods of time.
So how can some Sports Massage Therapy get you ready for the long ride – literally and metaphorically?
Massage Therapy as Injury Prevention
There are plenty of proponents of Sports Massage for recovery and rehabilitation for cyclists, and we will get to that next week. But for this week, I’d like to start at the very beginning: regular Sports Massage Therapy as a preventative measure. The nature of overuse injuries is that they tend to build up unnoticed over time. A consistent course of Massage Therapy throughout the year can address concerns while they are still minor irritants, and before they become chronic and large-scale injuries.
Most Common Types of Injuries, and Massage Therapy Approaches to Prevention
- Knee Pain – the repeated bending and straightening of the knee that occurs in cycling puts the knee in particular jeopardy of irritation and inflammation, which is why anterior knee pain is the number one reason that cyclists consult medical professionals, despite the low-impact nature of the sport. The repetitive flexion and extension of the knee can result in inflammation of the knee joint tissues, the ligaments that support the knee, or the bursa sacs designed to alleviate friction in the knee. Knees are especially susceptible to distress when accompanied by an overreliance on the quadriceps, or tightness in the IT band, both of which are common tendencies with cyclists. In fact, I recently worked with a client who had taken a break from competitive running to give his IT band and “runner’s knee” a rest, and replaced his running regimen with stationary bike work. He ended up exacerbating his issue and needed to give up cycling as well, in order to heal his IT Band Syndrome.
- Lower Back Pain – the second most common type of cycling overuse injury, lower back pain often occurs in riders due to the amount of time spent in a lumbar flexion position. Our spines were not designed to sustain a bent over posture for prolonged periods, so cycling can put a great deal of strain on the muscular-skeletal system of the lower back. Hitting all the pelvic stabilizers with Massage Therapy – the glutes, back extensors, Quadratus Lumborum, quads, hamstrings, Tensor Fascia Latae, abductors, and adductors – is effective in alleviating these symptoms.
- Neck Pain – Scroll through my blog posts, and you will find a lot about neck pain being caused by over utilized scalene muscles and a stretch weakness in the trapezius muscles. So many of our daily activities – and sometimes just an inattention to good posture – reinforce our tendency to hold the head in a downward, forward position for many hours. Cycling is no different in this regard, with the neck muscles becoming fatigued or pinched from the onus of supporting the weight of the head. And if this is supplemented with tension in the shoulders, or too tight a grip on the handlebars, then we’re looking at some serious misalignment and muscular discontent.
All of these areas seem to be responsive to Deep Tissue Massage. I like to pay particular attention to the Tensor Fascia Latae and length of the IT band. A Sports Massage session may incorporate assisted stretching for relaxation and symmetry in the muscle groups that stabilize the pelvis – such as the glutes and the abductors/adductors – in order to prevent excessive lumbar spine flexion. We would also promote hip flexion by tackling muscle imbalances in the glutes and hamstrings. We will alleviate muscle fatigue in the quads, and attack lower back pain at the source by working on the Quadratus Lumborum, among others. And finally, we will check in on the upper back and shoulders to make sure you are fully calibrated for activity.
As a final note on preventing cycling injury, it behooves me to say that proper bike fit and good-fitting gear is incredibly important in preventing many of the above scenarios. Ill-fitting shoes can lead to the faulty foot mechanics that often cause knee, hip, and lower back pain. Poor cleat positioning has direct implications on Achilles Tendonitis. And I recommend consulting with a good bike shop to make sure your frame size and handlebar and seat positioning are correct for you, and not creating mechanical issues that can lead to muscular disgruntlement. Check out www.retul.com for what they can do for you, or talk to your favorite local bike shop.
Next week we will continue our exploration of the world of Cycling by discussing the benefits of incorporating Massage Therapy into your training regimen, for recovery and recuperation. In the meantime, feel free to ride off into the sunset, and rest assured that your friendly neighborhood Massage Therapist is ready to join your pit crew at a moment’s notice!
Power to the Peaceful Body,
Boulder Sports Massage
Your Boulder resource for Sports Massage and Deep Tissue Massage with empathy