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  1. #1
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    Knee pain cycling with platform pedals

    I've been cycling consistantly for about 4 years. I've done a 6 month tour, and last summer I cycled 2 weeks in the Alps. All this cycling has been done in clipless Look or Shimano SPD pedals without any knee pain whatsover. About 4 months ago, I bought an old mtn bike for commuting and fitted platform pedals for their practicality. Unfortunately, ever since, I've had pain in both my VMOs, particular my left VMO. Due to the fact that I noticed I was cycling with my midfoot on the platform pedals, I have since fitted cages to let me spin more and use the ball of my foot, like on cleats. The pain persists. Also, I've also noticed that my knee cracks virtually everytime I straighten it. I'm not sure if this is linked, but I know this wasn't the case before the pain started. The pain isn't debilitating, but it's bothersome enough and I worry that I could be doing longer term damage to the joint.

    Although I'm open to any suggestions on remedying the issue, I'm actually more curious to find out if other people have had such problems when changing 'back' to platform pedals.

  2. #2
    Senior Member GeorgeBMac's Avatar
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    I had a very similar type problem: I use free-ride pedals which, along with the right shoes, lock the foot onto the pedal in the horizontal plane. So I am usually using just the ball of my foot to pedal -- which is different than what you describe -- but the rest of the problem sounds a bit similar.

    I had pain in my right knee. Well, actually about an inch or so below the knee on the medial side (about where the sartorius muscle attaches). But, it was close enough to the knee that I had an ortho check it with X-Rays and an MRI. And, the knee was fine - even though I do have clicking in the knee cap.

    I took PT and, during that I realized that as I pedaled -- and especially as I tired, two things started to happen:
    1) My right knee started to come in towards the top bar -- which made the medial muscles work harder.
    2) As I tired I tended to drop lower down towards the bars -- which pulled the knee in even more.

    I think I strained or sprained the muscles on the medial side because of a muscle imbalance.

    The solution was two-fold:
    1) Stretch, strengthen & balance the gluteals, hamstring and IT band using matt exercises that included stretching and strengthening. The stretches were with a towel or band stretching all four sides of the leg and then, using ankle weights to strengthen those same sides. All of those exercises were done with a straight leg.

    2) Focus on properly keeping my knee over the pedal (rather than on the inside of the pedal) as I ride and begin to tire. It brought to mind that old, childhood joke: "Dr! Dr! it hurts when I do THIS!"; "Well, son, stop doing that!"

    Another thing that I added was a half hour of running / jogging most days -- which also seems to help to balance the muscles. I also added, single legged, knee bends...

    All of that seem to have helped. Plus, my legs feel a LOT better and stronger since beginning that routine -- which I do most days of the week. In fact, this week I took up skiing again after more than a 15 year hiatus and, although my form had suffered (a LOT!), my legs actually felt stronger than they did back in my younger days.

    That's been my experience with what sounds like a similar problem -- and the solution all had to do with stretching, strengthening and balancing the muscles. My theory is that cycling created an imbalance that, combined with some congenital hip/back problems (aka scoliosis), caused a muscle/tendon strain or sprain.
    --------------------------------------
    bikes: 1992 Cannondale R500, 2012 Trek DS 8.5, 2008 LeMond Poprad

  3. #3
    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    Does that old MTB that you bought fit you properly ?? Is the seat high enough ??..Personally I never had problems with platform pedals.

  4. #4
    Senior Member nkfrench's Avatar
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    I bought a new bike to use as a "backup bike" - very similar geometry, fitted to match my "good bike".
    During the first test rides on the stock rattrap platforms, my knees were very uncomfortable.
    I had the LBS put on "campus" pedals - dual SPD/platforms.
    Within a few blocks on the backup bike, my knees were in pain even on the SPD side.
    I gave it a few 17-mile test rides but my knees ached for a few days.
    I moved the MTB SPD pedals from my good bike to the backup bike; and put new pedals same model on my good bike.
    Problem solved!
    I believe after 15,000+ miles on the same pedals, my knee muscles developed to conform with those pedals and their placement, and the pedaling motion I used.
    I don't know exactly what the difference was. My MTB SPDs are set very loose with lots of float so I wouldn't think rattrap platforms would have been difficult to find a comfortable position.
    I wore my normal bike shoes in each instance. MTB SPD bike commuter sandals (Keen).

  5. #5
    Senior Member GeorgeBMac's Avatar
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    This is pure speculation. BUT, it seems to me that platforms have two differences that could, maybe, cause some problems:
    1) Platforms force ALL of the power to come on the down stroke. So, at the same power level, more stress would be put on the knee and the muscles than with clipless.
    2) Platforms would tend to put more of the force on the ball of the foot (which is the highest part touching the pedal) as opposed to clipless where the force is in the middle and/or spread across the foot.

    I'm think that both of those COULD maybe change the way force is applied to the knee as well as how the various muscles are engaged.

    I wouldn't bet the farm on it -- but neither would I count it out...
    --------------------------------------
    bikes: 1992 Cannondale R500, 2012 Trek DS 8.5, 2008 LeMond Poprad

  6. #6
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    Just to clarify some details about the bike, positioning and equipment: The bike is a late 80's/early 90's Peugeot Alpine Express with significantly slacker angles than my mid-80s Lemond (the bike I've spent the majority of the last few years on) road bike. I've set saddle height in a relatively conservative way, following the text book method of heel-on-pedal/straight leg at bottom of stroke method. Since setting the saddle at this height, I've played around by lifting and dropping a couple of centermeters, which has had no effect. It has a triple, with a Q-factor of 167mm (154 from memory for the double on my road bike).

    Furthermore, about a year ago I started commuting (no more than 4 or 5 kilometers) in normal shoes and my Look pedals on my Lemond bike. This was the first time my knees (mostly my left) flaired up. Initially, I tried riding through it, thinking I just needed to adjust. However, after about a month of discomfort, I realised that things werent getting any better, and started wearing my Sidis (with cleats) again. About this time, I also started picking up my mileage, in an attempt to get into shape for a short tour in the Alps. After a couple of months, even with the higher mileage and intensified training, this knee problem totally cleared up.

    I believe after 15,000+ miles on the same pedals, my knee muscles developed to conform with those pedals and their placement, and the pedaling motion I used.
    This is what I have been thinking nkfrench - after spending a considerable amount of time using the exact same equipment, my body and style of riding has conformed itself to this interface. It feels as though I've developed a specific technique, and now that I am trying to introduce a different element, this technique is stressing certain muscles and ligaments. I suppose this is the main reason why I am asking if anybody else has ever had problems 'going back' to platforms from clipless - to see if anybody else has had to go through this transition.

    The solution was two-fold:
    1) Stretch, strengthen & balance the gluteals, hamstring and IT band using matt exercises that included stretching and strengthening. The stretches were with a towel or band stretching all four sides of the leg and then, using ankle weights to strengthen those same sides. All of those exercises were done with a straight leg.
    Which leads me to what you're saying GeorgeBMac - basically, how do I untrain my body from pedalling the way it is, so that I can adopt a style/technique that won't cause me pain on platforms? To do this, I'm assuming I need to strengthen and create flexibility in the leg, much like you say. I found this video for 'Bullet Proof Knees' (http://www.pinkbike.com/video/215061/) by James Wilson from MTB Strength Training Systems, and his approach seems to make sense (however, given that I've no physio qualifications, this means next to nothing). It's been about a week and a half, and my knees are feeling stronger, but the pain still flairs up (predominantly my VMO) even on my pathetic 5 k commute.

    I've tried fitting the platform pedals to my Lemond, and things are marginally better, but not pain free. I'm yet to try my Look pedals and cleats on the mtb, but I don't really see the point, as its the Look pedals/clipless system I'm trying to get away from.

    Anyway, thanks for everyone's advice. Anymore opinions/experience with clipless to platform transition - whether positive or negative - is more than welcome. And of course, any miracle cures/exercises would be fantastic, however, I'm not holding my breath.
    Last edited by spie4337; 02-17-14 at 08:35 AM. Reason: Clarification

  7. #7
    Senior Member GeorgeBMac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spie4337 View Post
    Just to clarify some details about the bike, positioning and equipment: The bike is a late 80's/early 90's Peugeot Alpine Express with significantly slacker angles than my mid-80s Lemond (the bike I've spent the majority of the last few years on) road bike. I've set saddle height in a relatively conservative way, following the text book method of heel-on-pedal/straight leg at bottom of stroke method. Since setting the saddle at this height, I've played around by lifting and dropping a couple of centermeters, which has had no effect. It has a triple, with a Q-factor of 167mm (154 from memory for the double on my road bike).

    Furthermore, about a year ago I started commuting (no more than 4 or 5 kilometers) in normal shoes and my Look pedals on my Lemond bike. This was the first time my knees (mostly my left) flaired up. Initially, I tried riding through it, thinking I just needed to adjust. However, after about a month of discomfort, I realised that things werent getting any better, and started wearing my Sidis (with cleats) again. About this time, I also started picking up my mileage, in an attempt to get into shape for a short tour in the Alps. After a couple of months, even with the higher mileage and intensified training, this knee problem totally cleared up.



    This is what I have been thinking nkfrench - after spending a considerable amount of time using the exact same equipment, my body and style of riding has conformed itself to this interface. It feels as though I've developed a specific technique, and now that I am trying to introduce a different element, this technique is stressing certain muscles and ligaments. I suppose this is the main reason why I am asking if anybody else has ever had problems 'going back' to platforms from clipless - to see if anybody else has had to go through this transition.



    Which leads me to what you're saying GeorgeBMac - basically, how do I untrain my body from pedalling the way it is, so that I can adopt a style/technique that won't cause me pain on platforms? To do this, I'm assuming I need to strengthen and create flexibility in the leg, much like you say. I found this video for 'Bullet Proof Knees' (http://www.pinkbike.com/video/215061/) by James Wilson from MTB Strength Training Systems, and his approach seems to make sense (however, given that I've no physio qualifications, this means next to nothing). It's been about a week and a half, and my knees are feeling stronger, but the pain still flairs up (predominantly my VMO) even on my pathetic 5 k commute.

    I've tried fitting the platform pedals to my Lemond, and things are marginally better, but not pain free. I'm yet to try my Look pedals and cleats on the mtb, but I don't really see the point, as its the Look pedals/clipless system I'm trying to get away from.

    Anyway, thanks for everyone's advice. Anymore opinions/experience with clipless to platform transition - whether positive or negative - is more than welcome. And of course, any miracle cures/exercises would be fantastic, however, I'm not holding my breath.
    There are many others on this forum who are far more familiar with training issues than I -- so I hope that they chime in.

    But, from my own experience: I don't think it's a matter of 'untraining your body' -- but cross training your body. To me, riding a bike (especially locked into clipless is a lot like going to the gym and only using a single weight machine: your body will get over developed in a few areas and, relatively speaking, underdeveloped in others..

    So, I would work on strengthening those other areas... The strengthening I have used use 5 Lb ankle weights. The PT told me not to increase the weight, just increase the reps she started me doing 30 reps in any number of sets I want (from one to three) and each rep includes holding the extension for 2 seconds:
    First: laying on my back 30 lifting each leg to a 45 degree angle (Quads).
    Second: on my belly, lifting each leg as high as it will go (Gluts)
    Third: On my side, lift each leg to a 45 degree angle (Abductors)
    Fourth: On my side, lift each leg as high as it will go (Adductors)

    I'm sure there are better ways to do it -- but a few weeks of that seemed to balance things out for me. Now I just do it 3 - 4 times a week for maintenance.

    But, I am leary too -- because the new bike just might be putting a strain on things over and above simply using different muscle groups. Be cautious.
    --------------------------------------
    bikes: 1992 Cannondale R500, 2012 Trek DS 8.5, 2008 LeMond Poprad

  8. #8
    Senior Member nkfrench's Avatar
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    The only solution is to ride several bicycles each with variations on geometry and pedal systems.
    If you're already grooved in to one bike, gradually build up ride time on another bike.

  9. #9
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    I've never had any knee issues from changing pedals. But the obvious way to solve the problem would be change back to the clipless and see if the condition persists or gets better. Then try reintroducing the new pedals a little at a time. You might also check between old/new pedals for any change in position of the ball of the foot relative to the spindle. Using cages and decent straps there would be very little difference in the muscles used, but any minor change in position after a lot of miles could expose some imbalance caused by a lot of miles.

  10. #10
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    I don't think it's a matter of 'untraining your body' -- but cross training your body.
    I totally agree. It's more of a matter of further developing and having general strength, flexibility and balance in the leg muscles. Thanks for offering the exercises your PT prescribed. As I mentioned, I've been doing the exercises described by James Wilson in his video, and although its only been about 2 weeks now, I went out on the bike yesterday and noticed an improvement. Given this, I might continue with his exercises for another couple of weeks and see where that takes me. If they lead to a dead end, it's good to know there's another avenue I can pursue. As a side note, for those who've seen the video and are interested in a foam roller, save yourself some $$$ and buy a PVC pipe - it works great. I've been using a one meter by 10cm diameter, and you can really feel it digging in.

    But the obvious way to solve the problem would be change back to the clipless and see if the condition persists or gets better. Then try reintroducing the new pedals a little at a time.
    That's not a bad idea either. As mentioned, things are (hopefully) on the up, so hopefully I don't have to resort to conducting all sorts of bike geometry/pedal cleat alignment experiments.

    Thanks for all the opinions and advice. I'll keep you all informed!
    Last edited by spie4337; 02-20-14 at 04:34 AM. Reason: Clarification

  11. #11
    Senior Member hermanchauw's Avatar
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    Short term solution: release soft tissues.

    Long term solution: adjust your bike fit, get strong overall.

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