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How cycling can allow you to remain active with osteoarthritis

16th January 2018

The spring months are made for biking. The roads are free from ice and snow. It’s not too cold. It’s not too hot. It’s the perfect conditions for that bike ride.

It is worth noting however that there are still a host of ways in which you are able to enjoy cycling in the winter months as this doesn’t have to be a barrier to you getting on your bike.

Getting on your bike is also an excellent activity for people with OA (Osteoarthritis) of the knee, as it is exercising the joint without overloading it (which is the main source of pain). Cycling (along with other sports such as swimming) are lower impact compared to running, thereby allowing you to exercise without impacting on the joints and exacerbating the condition further.

Exercise is one of the main treatment options in managing OA, as not only does it release endorphins (natural painkillers) into the body it also keeps you fit and healthy. If you didn’t exercise then your joints would be stiffer and the heavier you are the more load being placed on your affected joint i.e. more pain.

How to get the most of your cycling experience

To get the most out of pedaling on your bicycle, be sure to take the following things into consideration:

The saddle height: You should be able to reach the pedal easily with your heel. If the saddle is too low and your legs are bent, the effort needed is too much. If the saddle is too high, you are overstretching your knee and the Achilles tendon will be strained.

The handle bar height: They should sit higher than the saddle, so you are seated in an upright and comfortable position.

Adapted handle bars: If you are (also) suffering from any form of hand OA, it is important to have a suitable handle-bar with easy to operate gears.

The right pace: For OA patients, an optimal cycling rhythm would be faster and with less force (low gear), so that there is less pressure on your joints.

Pain-free start: As with every other activity, you shouldn’t fight the pain, but start in a pain-free / low pain period. There are several options that can help you to manage your OA knee pain, with the NICE Guidelines suggesting that non-invasive (non-surgical) treatment should be considered in the first instance.

Having the right equipment for the job

For the perfect bike trip, you will need to prepare well and have the right equipment to enjoy the open road.

Start with preparing your bike:

  • Check your lights are fitted correctly and working
  • Check your brakes are working correctly and will be able to stop you at speed (if you need it)
  • Oil the chain and ensure it runs smoothly on all gears
  • Check your tyres are inflated to the desired pressure (as indicated on the tyre). You should also take an air pump, a repair kit and tools as well as a secure lock with you.
  • Take ample supplies with you including drinks, high energy food and a first aid kit

What clothing should I wear?

As a cyclist, you should be wearing comfortable, weatherproof clothing – multi-layer style so you can add or remove clothing if you are too cold / too hot.

If you’re riding in poor light, either at the start or the end of the day then you need to wear something bright so that other road users can see you and more importantly so that you stay on the right side of the law (the same applies to lighting).

Choosing your route

It is important to plan your trip in advance to ensure that it is suitable, given your level of cycling proficiency, fitness and equipment. There are loads of cycling websites available with predefined routes (depending if you want something scenic, off road, hilly etc) and even those loaded by other users which may show the odd hidden gem. There are also cycling routes designed specifically for the over 50’s.

When selecting a cycling route in the first instance, always consider:

  • Start off with a short route and then you can build up gradually to a longer route.
  • There are some great apps available, that you can download, which allows you to search for cycle routes and then track your progress.
  • For people suffering with OA of their knees, we would recommend avoiding very steep inclines and steep slopes

Happy Cycling!

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