Knee pain in cyclists. What you need to know

Former Head Physiotherapist to Orica GreenEdge, Rob Brown, shares his knowledge on one of the most prevalent injuries in cyclists.

Anterior knee pain is by far the most common reason why cyclists seek medical care, accounting for 32% — 60% of overuse injuries in professional cyclists. (Dettori 2006; Barrios, Sala, Terrados & Valenti 1997) #

Why? #

The force at the foot during cycling is only 17 – 19% of the vertical force during running, (Farell, Reisinger & Tillman 2003) meaning the major contributor to anterior knee pain in cyclists is repetition. The repetitive flexion and extension of the knee during 1000s of revolutions can irritate the medial plica and soft tissues as they slide over the medial aspect of the thighbone (figures 1 &2). Symptomatic plica may also arise secondary to acute trauma (ie a crash). 

Diagnosis #

Medial plica syndrome usually presents with a superficial, local dull ache in the anterior medial aspect of the knee. Pain is often accompanied by a snapping or clicking sensation over the medial femoral condyle (thighbone). A symptomatic thickened plica may be palpated over the medial aspect of the thighbone while the patient flexes and extends the knee. There may also be a small amount of swelling/​puffiness in the region.

Imaging (MRI, Ultra sound) usually reveals nothing but may be useful in excluding other pathology.

Treatment #

Initial treatment involves pain relief, reduction of inflammation and limiting aggravating activities. Anti-inflammatory medication and/​or a cortisone injection may be indicated after consultation with your doctor. Once the acute pain and inflammation has settled (usually 2 – 3 days) it is time to address the causative factors and initiate a gradual return to cycling.

A professional Bike Fit is recommended as a bike position with the seat too low or too far forward can cause overuse and stretch of the quadriceps muscles, increasing tension of plica and anterior soft tissues over the thighbone. Reduced lower limb control may result in increased adduction and internal rotation of the thigh (knee tracking towards the frame) placing tension on anterior medial structure of the knee.

Physiotherapy will help by increasing joint range of movement (esp. knee flexion), tissue extensibility and correcting muscle activation dysfunction and lower limb control to reduce symptoms and prevent reoccurrence.

So if you are suffering knee pain and are contemplating taking up cycling to reduce the load on your knees, be aware of the most prevalent injury in cyclists. 

If you’d like to book a bike fit or an appointment with one of our physiotherapists follow the link. 


3 years ago