Advice to my 'old' self re:hamstring/calf/knee pain
1.5 months ago I was really concerned about knee and calf pain of my own. I read most of what was written here about the subject. I’d been training for a 3 week tour in Germany/Switzerland, and had hurt myself due to poor bike fit and a bad overall training plan. Now that my trip is over, and my leg mostly recovered, I thought I’d start a thread directed at my past self and other relative long-distance beginners. Sorry if it is trivial or pedantic, but all sorts frequent this forum.
Back Story: preparing for a May Germany/Switzerland tour. I started training in December 2006. 20-40 miles daily, no recovery days, no informed training plan. Just a lot of enthusiasm.
Symptoms: eventually lead to severe pain behind the knee, upper part of calf, and moderate to severe pain in the lower hamstring, along with general tightness.
Cause: seat was too high (for one of my legs) throughout months of training. No stretching either before or after exercise. My pedalling cadence was probably too low, coupled with improper cleat angle and bad pedalling form. Did I do anything RIGHT?
My physician, as well as my university’s sport therapist, examined me before the trip, and believed I’d be good to go. Four weeks before leaving I was using a cane to walk. Graduated to limping three weeks before. Then stretching and mild exercise the remaining time before the trip. On the day of departure I had no clue if I would be able to bike a single DAY, let alone three weeks. My right calf was about 1 inch smaller in circumference than my left at that point.
Before leaving I and my LBS worked on my bike to really optimize the fit. My first day cycling was pretty shaky, but I babied the leg, went slow, and did lots of stretches. Must have gotten things right, because the trip was awesome, and I ended up averaging about 50 miles per day. My leg gradually gained its strength back. I ended by ‘accidentally’ doing my first century going through mountain passes in Switzerland. My calf still feels weak sometimes, I think due to scar tissue, and I need to stretch frequently to make it feel better.
Do your homework before you train. Enthusiasm is great, but it can go beyond your body’s capacity to recuperate, and sometimes there’s a lag time between causing serious damage and feeling it. And damage can accumulate in small increments.
Schedule and take recovery days even if your body feels fine. Have PATIENCE becoming a cycling god.
Know your body’s geometry, and take charge of optimizing your bike fit. Get a good LBS to help. Stance too aggressive for your back? too much weight on hands or tuckus? (ex: perhaps get a different stem), Pidgeon toed, hips turning out? (adjust your float, get a different pedal, or pedal accessory) Is one leg longer than another? How’s your pedalling form? etc. etc. The little differences in your anatomy really matter, you can and SHOULD adjust your bike until it’s perfect for you.
STRETCH! Learn and perform appropriate leg stretches. Before and after rides. Everyone says it, few people do it.
That’s about it, really. I had many warning pains along the way, but ignored them and let them accumulate into something that could have ruined my trip, and may have caused lasting damage as yet unknown. So if my past self is doing any searches on this forum, be ye warned.
For those who read this far, feel free to chastise your younger selves as you will.
- thanks for posting your experiences... i'm having a tad bit of pain on the front of the right knee (this is not something new: i remember the pain in the same location from marathon jogging in the late 70s)...
- time off eases the pain, but i'm wondering if i shouldn't use different size cranks for each leg? IOW, perhaps the left leg, which is not experiencing any pain, is a tad shorter than the right one?
- i'm going to try to raise my saddle a bit to see if i can ease the pain in the right knee...
- interestingly, my fit seems to change throughout the season...
p.s. i do about 6,000 miles a year on my bikes...
Thanks for the insight, I'm just getting started & am begining to grasp the importance of rest. I have a slight strain (I think) just below my lower left calf. It started last Friday during a run. It was almost gone yesterday, so I ran a few miles, but seemed to reagravate it & slightly tweeked in my hamstring favoring it. Fortunately, it doesn't affect my biking in any form. I'm resting today & then I plan to ride at least 30 miles tomorrow, 20 on Friday, & finishing up with another 30-40 miles Saturday before resting Sunday.
Hopefully I can start running again next week, but I won't try till the pain is 100% gone. I'm seriously considering joining the YMCA. A coworker told me that the downtown facility has an awesome Tri program. I am pretty clueless at this point about training & am looking for some guidance. I'm more interested in duathlons, but would consider a Tri later next year after I get some swimming skills.
wow. sounds pretty much like my exact situation. i am learning from it tho. i've become a regular stretcher now. everyday the hamstrings, groin, calves, glutes, hip flexors are stretched. ive gone from not being able to hardly do the groin stretches to now getting really low with them. i do them by standing with feet apart about, i don't know, 2.5' and then sorta squating down on one side till i feel the stretch.
anyways, thanks for starting the thread. hopefully others can learn from our mistakes.
- did my 50-mile+ birthday ride today... was initially worried due to the previously mentioned knee pain (on outside/inside right knee)...
- before taking off, i raised the seatpost holding my Brooks B-17 about a quarter of an inch...
- guess what? after four+ hours in the saddle, NO KNEE PAIN!!!
(i'm going to take exact fit measurements of this bike's setup, then check my other rides)
Raising the seat helped me with knee pain a few years back. BUT I raised it too much, causing one of my legs to have to reach for the pedal (not even noticeably), and over a few months with that setup I really damaged my right calf and hamstring. I consulted some racers in my area, who gave me some bad advice, and I ignored the pain in my leg. Eventually, I had trouble putting any weight on it, and had to NOT BIKE, or exercise at all basically, for almost six weeks. It was very frustrating.
When making adjustments to fit, a single millimeter can mean the difference between 'just right' and repetitive use injury. Raising the seat 1/4 of an inch is a big step, keep paying attention to your body.
Originally Posted by fillthecup
- it was *about* a quarter of an inch, but yes, i *definitely* agree w/minimal adjustments... quite amazing what a few millimeters will do! tks!
Thanks for putting up this thread, it is exactly the discussion many of us need to have. Personally, my recent experience is still unfolding.
2 wks ago I posted here about my left knee getting uncomfortable pressure & other sensations the day after doing a 55 mile ride. I later made an appointment w/ a cycling performance specialist at our sports medicine center & here is what we found:
Pressure under/@ patellas, mostly in left leg; guy checks my knee to hip "Q line"? & other measurements. Comes up with 2 or 3 details, if this sounds familiar to anyone let me know what you did to correct it:
1. right leg is 8mm shorter than left (that's it, I'ma gimp!)
2. flat feet that roll inward or pronate;
3. my riding style is knock-kneed, my knees tilt inward.
1. if I chose to stay in toe-clips (commuting 40+ miles/week minimum), I need to get a slightly larger right pedal (4mm) to even out the difference (such as a BMX pedal);
2. if I am going for longer distances in the future (very near, yes) I should get into clipless w/ a proper fitting + shim.
& 3. Either way, I need to get a custom footbed ('orthodic'?) made to avoid pronation.
An added thought, he suggests maybe spacers at the pedals to move my legs apart to help correct my pedalling technique.
Okay, so yesterday I went to one of the best knee surgeons in our area & he identified the problem NOT as a tracking issue, NOT as a torn cartilage issue, but as arthritis (I'm 38yrs old...) & that I should just "let pain be my guide" to avoid this problem in the future. Also, he said I should cross train in something like swimming. OK I said, but what about the specialists recommendations? Uh yeah, that too was basically his reply. I dunno, its not much of a plan I think. I expected PT & other specific actions I could take.