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Touring with bad knees

Old 04-01-12, 02:57 PM
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macphisto23
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Touring with bad knees

Hello all!

I will make this quick...

I was planning a bike tour from alaska to argentina last summer but right before my launch date I started having knee problems; inflamed and achy knees. I decided to not go and and rest my knees and go for it next year. Well, my launch date is this May and I am still having problems with achy knees. I should say that I am still fairly young; 29. I want to do this more than anything but I am really concerned that I may do some permanent damage.

I am looking for advice from others who have toured on bad knees. I don't know what to do
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Old 04-01-12, 03:01 PM
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Don't go.

Seek out medical help.
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Old 04-01-12, 03:12 PM
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I should add that I did get them checked out last year and I was diagnosed with patello femoral syndrome. I told the doctor my plans(last summer) and he told me that i should go for it. Like I said I decided to not go and instead did a kayak tour for a few months. My knees have felt relatively great until recently when i started doing a lot of hiking and exercising. Not much biking.
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Old 04-01-12, 03:19 PM
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Check out my right knee on a NY to LA tour.
Was not able ride hills after an accident in an elevator, when the bike fell over onto my knee.
Hurt like a blow from a hammer.

How will you ride mountains and hills in Pain?

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Old 04-01-12, 03:25 PM
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I am so sorry about your accident; are you still able to ride at all?

I am really unsure how it will go. I guess I am optimistic that if I just go things will turn out alright. I just can't bare the thought of not going, it is tearing me up inside. I am hoping there are others here who have had similar knee pain and toured and had no significant problems.
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Old 04-01-12, 03:47 PM
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May be a bit too ambitious to do a marathon down the Pan American Highway .
You can always Fly to Buenos Aires and enjoy the Pampas with out crossing the Andes to get there.

but maybe fine if you got the gearing range broad and right so can stay 'On top of your gear',
and don't try too hard on the climbs .. get off and walk, when the spinning becomes hard slogging.
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Old 04-01-12, 04:09 PM
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I would consult with a doctor on the medical side of things since that more than an Internet forum should be able to tell you more on risks of causing long term damage.

On the bicycle tour part, how much do you have to nail down and how much can you take it as it comes - e.g. think first of trying the Fairbanks to Whitehorse ride, giving yourself plenty of time and then confirming/changing rest of plans from there southbound next segment? I could imagine some things like housing & employment might be awkward but it might be an easier approach if you can think one part at a time rather than an entire huge journey. Long before you hit the Andes you should have confirmation if this will be foolish to do.

Also BTW where in Alaska were you thinking of starting from? I started a cross-Canada trip on May 1st from Fairbanks and the rivers were just starting to break up. Some tourist sites on Alaska Highway had openings in mid-May. So I could imagine if one were thinking of Prudhoe Bay that May might be just a bit tougher than June or July. I've also ridden Dalton Highway on different trip over an extended 4th of July week and this part is more challenging to do a "trial run" than the Alaska Highway might be.
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Old 04-01-12, 04:28 PM
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Originally Posted by macphisto23 View Post
My knees have felt relatively great until recently when i started doing a lot of hiking and exercising. Not much biking.
Havn't you answered your own question? Is biking hurting them? I've had the same as you, I gave up the exercises that hurt my knees, ensured my bike was setup (after many many hours of experimentation) correctly to avoid knee pain.

I do suggest taking medical advice again to be on the safe side, in conjunction with that do the above and do a one or two week tour with as many miles as possible (building up slowly) to test if touring has any effect on your knees. Then you will have a more difinitive answer.
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Old 04-01-12, 04:32 PM
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In my case, cycling a lot actually helped my knee. It took years and thousands of miles, but my knee is better today than it was before. This followed a few years of unsuccessful pain medication and knee surgery.

Cycling is pretty good low-impact exercise for the knee, easier on the joint than walking.

OP, if you already have everything set for the trip, you should try to proceed. Don't let the knee be the "justifiable excuse" for depriving you of adventure. Be sure to pick up a bottle of ibuprofen for the trip.
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Old 04-01-12, 04:35 PM
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I guess I could always hitch a ride on the big hills if I needed to. I am one of those people though that hate asking for help. So I could possibly be stubborn enough to ride the hills even if my knees are sore.

I really have no time constraints. Breaking the tour up actually is an interesting idea.

I was actually thinking instead of flying to Alaska I would start from my home town(St. George, UT) and head North West to Vancouver. From Vancouver I would go South to Argentina. That way I could get an idea on how my knees are doing and still be relatively close to home.

Thanks for the tips guy's. I am starting to feel a little better about my chances.
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Old 04-01-12, 05:25 PM
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Bike setup.

Do not use foot restraints (clips, clipless...)

gear low. learn to spin.

Arch of your foot on the middle of the pedal, not the ball of the foot.
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Old 04-01-12, 06:21 PM
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I am the same as the OP, 27 years old but, arthritis in my knees/wrists since childhood. Some days suck, other days no pain whatsoever.

I'm doing cycle touring before the issues become worse. My doc said to me your joints are always going to hurt, medications only help a bit, the surgrey is brutal so ahead and wreck your knees some more and have fun!

Last edited by SparkyGA; 04-02-12 at 12:54 AM.
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Old 04-01-12, 06:21 PM
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Originally Posted by macphisto23 View Post
My knees have felt relatively great until recently when i started doing a lot of hiking and exercising. Not much biking.
Does that include running? How's your foot wear? In my case, once my knees get inflamed from patella tracking problems, riding more doesn't help...things get worse. I've had good luck working with a physical the******, and increasing mileage and hills slowly early in the season. Also make sure the bike fit is correct and you don't have any leg length discrepancies.
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Old 04-01-12, 06:34 PM
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Don't want to give you any false encouragement, but here's my story.

I injured my left knee during a month-long hiking trip due to the amount of steep down hills, but the knee recovered with rest. I even recall the moment it frighteningly popped. When I started a bike tour a couple of years later, my left knee started aching again to my surprise because I thought cycling wouldn't stress the knee as much as backpacking because the equipment weight was on the bike instead of my back.

I knew that I had to take things slowly and even chose a rest day during the first week. I probably averaged 40 miles/day during the first week (with the rest day) and ensured I didn't push myself to an injury point by taking plenty of breaks. Eventually, the ache went away after the first week and after the second week, I felt fairly strong.

The same thing happened with my shoulders, arms, and hands. It was uncomfortable during the first 2 weeks because of insufficient hand positions (no bar ends on straight bars). Around the 3-4th week, I installed some bar ends, but found myself hardly using them because my shoulders, arms, and hands felt stronger and became accustomed to the straight bars. I once remembered cycling for about an hour, and thinking, "Shouldn't I be changing hand positions by now"? I removed the bar ends, but still wished I had started with them.

Weight merit has been raised many times, and I don't want to start any debates, but if you can reduce the bike or equipment weight (as well as having low enough gears), that should help relieve some stress on your body and knees especially during climbs. (The wheels will thank you for the weight reduction too.) The first couple of weeks are really important for your body to strengthen and adapt, but will vary by individual. After that, the physical aspect may be easy, but sometimes the mental aspect is challenging.

Don't push yourself into a serious injury and listen to your doctor.

-Lance
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Old 04-01-12, 06:38 PM
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Originally Posted by macphisto23 View Post
I should add that I did get them checked out last year and I was diagnosed with patello femoral syndrome. I told the doctor my plans(last summer) and he told me that i should go for it. Like I said I decided to not go and instead did a kayak tour for a few months. My knees have felt relatively great until recently when i started doing a lot of hiking and exercising. Not much biking.
just to check, knees are ok cycling but hiking and exercising not ok and the doctor said go for it?

I was 23 when I crashed with cross country skis and my right ski hit my left patellar tendon. Totally eff'd me up for a week. Could barely walk. Checked with a doctor a month later and he said "yep, you injured your patellar tendon, warm up and give me a call if it gets worse".
That summer I rode to Colorado from Utah and made sure to go SLOW up every mountain and not push it re. torque. Two years later I was racing for a couple years and the knee didn't hold me back although I had to make absolutely sure I warmed up in the first 10-30 minutes. I'm 59 and below my left kneecap it's puffy compared to my right but I'm still riding. I just have to make sure to warm up.

Walking up steep steps with weight can eff up your knees compared to pedaling at 80rpm. Again, refer to the doctors advice but if your problem doesn't come from cycling what's the problem?
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Old 04-01-12, 07:47 PM
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I had knee pain that acted like patellar tendonitis that just wouldn't heal. My orthopedist suggested that cycling was probably the best activity that would help build/maintain strength without causing undue stress. They actually told me not to walk for exercise. Walking for my normal activities was ok, but they told me not to push it. I also went to physical therapy for a while and did a lot of strength training with ankle weights and a lot of stretching. I still do the stretching every day, actually.

With cycling, I found I needed to build up slowly in terms of mileage and always spin in low gears, but I've mostly healed and I can do what I want to do. I don't know if this will work with your particular problem, but I don't think you should give up hope of going on your trip. Maybe you should try getting your doctor to refer you for a few PT sessions. PT helped me a lot. Also, PTs will spend plenty of time with you explaining the biomechanics of your knees and why you should do some things and not others. Doctors seem to be always running to their next appointment, so you can't always get much useful info out of them.
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Old 04-01-12, 07:51 PM
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Fit, gearing, and NO foot restraints. Once those issues are satisfied, all you can do is ride. Your knees will deliver the verdict, loud and clear. Your revised plan is reasonable.

The syndrome you have been diagnosed with is not well understood. Treatment regimens are little more than guesses, and meds are limited to aspirin/ibuprofen.
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Old 04-01-12, 09:12 PM
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I used to do a lot of resistant training on a stationary recumbent bike I have but that is what I was using when I woke up with swollen knees. My knees have not been the same since. I gave up running and all of my favorite high impact sports.

I do walk a lot so that could be part of the problem. I think I will rest my knees this week and slowly get back into it until my tour. When my knees feel achy I get so depressed. Thanks for all he tips
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Old 04-01-12, 09:27 PM
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Can anybody recommend me a crankset for my tour? I am using a Surly LHT with 26inch wheels.

Last edited by macphisto23; 04-01-12 at 09:41 PM.
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Old 04-01-12, 09:42 PM
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If you go, just take it easy, don't mash up hills.
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Old 04-01-12, 09:45 PM
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Originally Posted by macphisto23 View Post
Can anybody recommend me a crankset for my tour? I am using a Surly LHT with 26inch wheels.
I've changed the crank on my LHT to a 22-32-44 , and a 12-36 cassette. I think that give me about a 16 gear inch for climbing. Works well.
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Old 04-01-12, 10:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Northwestrider View Post
I've changed the crank on my LHT to a 22-32-44 , and a 12-36 cassette. I think that give me about a 16 gear inch for climbing. Works well.
Hey, can you tell me the exact model you got for the crank and cassette? Cheers
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Old 04-01-12, 11:58 PM
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Touring with bad knees? Here's my credentials:



I strongly advise you get a second opinion before your trip, and read up on everything you can on how to treat your problem on the road. And that's because if it comes up, it will be on the road. In my case I went a step further, one I hope you don't need to take - I let my knees lead my head and bike around. Every trip was chosen to work around the physical problems, and instead of enjoying my tours I spent them babying my knees. I hope you never get to that point.

As far as practical advise, keep your load as light as possible. Don't use a clipless system or straps. Get your fit dialed in. Pace yourself on climbs. Take plentiful rest days. Learn what medications help you and take them as you need to. Get some low gears. If you need help, ask.

I'm looking forward to touring again myself, once I recover from my bilateral knee replacement.....
 
Old 04-02-12, 12:38 AM
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Originally Posted by macphisto23 View Post
Can anybody recommend me a crankset for my tour? I am using a Surly LHT with 26inch wheels.
stock one works fine
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Old 04-02-12, 12:41 AM
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Originally Posted by macphisto23 View Post
I used to do a lot of resistant training on a stationary recumbent bike I have but that is what I was using when I woke up with swollen knees. My knees have not been the same since.
what do you mean "a lot"? as in time on the recumbent bike, high torquing, high effort etc. ? Did you warm up on the stationary bike?
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