Achy? Injured? Sore? Mountain Biking places high loads on joints that we normally don't think of as load bearing (i.e., elbows, shoulders, wrists). This can be analogous to walking on your hands, says Dr. Michael Shepard, board-certified orthopaedic surgeon with a subspecialty in sports medicine from Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, CA. That’s because mountain bikers load their body weight across the upper extremity joints when traveling downhill.
Injuries often associated with mountain biking are typically either overuse injuries or traumatic injuries (resulting from crashes). If you are experiencing an ache or pain from riding your bike, it’s likely due to the following most common mountain biking ailments:
Muscle Soreness - Muscle soreness that goes away within 24 hours is considered normal when pushing your body to or near its limits. It takes energy and oxygen to fuel your muscles, and once spent, you develop lactic acid build up in your muscles. Combine this with bumps, hits and washboard trails, and you have a recipe for pain.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - If your soreness lasts for longer than 24 hours post-ride, you may have DOMS, which stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. “Your body is saying that you have pushed it too far and you have done too much in too short of a time period,” says Dr. Dr. Tim Brown, sports chiropractic physician, medical director for the Association of Surfing Professionals and founder of IntelliSkin. Swim, walk, easy yoga with focus on breath, get a lymphatic massage...just take it easy and let your body recover, and learn from this experience. It's not healthy or productive to push so hard in the long run.
Ulnar Neuropathy - Numbness in hands and fingers due to gripping too hard over time develops nerve compression from muscles in forearm.
IT Band Syndrome – The glutes and outside of the thigh become overused and under-stretched because cycling gait (leg and hip motion) typically uses more of the front and outside of the thigh and hip to cycle. These muscles become overused and under-stretched, creating abnormal cycling gait motion that then causes stress and wear and tear on the Illiotibial Band that is trying it's hardest to compensate for poor quality of movement. “The goal is to improve your biomechanics to share the work load by properly using all your core and posture muscles to turn your wheels,” says Dr. Brown.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome – This is similar to IT Band, in that poor quality of motion caused by cycling gait or poor fit on the bike setup creates poor biomechanics that alter how you should move on your bike. Over time this causes abnormal tracking (pulling towards your overused outer thigh muscles) of the patella as it goes up and down in a track, known as the femoral groove. The result is pain and swelling around your knee cap that you might first feel after your ride, then over time during your ride, then it becomes a full-time injury that you feel when you squat down or step up. “You must learn to lengthen the muscles you use the most and exercise to train your under-used muscles to work to help bring your core and legs back towards better balance,” advises Dr. Brown. Your front, back, inside and outside muscles must work together and fire with correct rhythm and synchrony to perform your best, recover efficiently and help prevent injury.
Carpal Tunnel - Compression of the median nerve at the wrist resulting in numbness to index and middle finger.
Exertional Compartment Syndrome - Increased pressure in the forearm compartments resulting in pain.
Lateral Epicondylitis – Also known as tennis elbow, this results from overuse of the tendons used in grip.
Clavicle Fracture – The most common traumatic injury Dr. Brown has seen in road and mountain bikers is fracture to the clavicle from slamming hard on a shoulder or going over the bars headfirst. It can be a "simple" still in alignment fracture or a complex compound fracture, where the sharp, broken bone has torn through the skin. “I've done it...it's no party and can take anywhere from eight weeks to three months to get you safely back on the bike,” he says.
Radial Head Fracture - Most common fracture at the elbow, rarely needs surgery.
AC Separation - Injury to the joint where the Clavicle attaches to the Acromion (scapula).
Shoulder Dislocation - The humerus comes out of the shoulder joint, tearing the labrum.
Elbow Dislocation - The radius and ulna dislocate from the elbow joint.
Concussion - brain injury related to impact trauma.