Cycling for healthy knees
Cycling can be a really good exercise to help you look after your weight-bearing joints (back, hips, knees, lower legs and feet) in general. It is especially good for your knees!
Using a stationary bike (exercise bike) means that you don’t have the full weight of your body being transferred through your aching knees, and this allows you to give your joints and muscles a good workout. The cycling motion uses the hinge part of the knees natural movement only; it doesn’t put any twisting stress on your knee joint. This can be especially useful when recovering from cartilage tears or surgery.
Riding a bike focuses on the quadriceps muscle, at the front of your thigh. This is a very important muscle when it comes to helping you manage your knee pain.
There are different types of exercise bikes, the traditional upright bike and also the recumbent bike, which can be easier if you are less mobile, have problems with balance or back pain. You can also get a good cycling workout from simple floor pedal exercisers in the comfort of your own home!
Exercise bike program
The most important thing to consider once you have chosen your preferred bike is the height of the seat. The seat should be flat and the balls of your feet (not your arches) should be on the pedals.Both feet should remain flat throughout the whole range of motion so you can push the most power through the pedals.
Set the height of the seat so you can maintain a 20-degree bend in the knee when it’s at it’s lowest point. If your leg is straight at its lowest point lower the seat, if its bent more than 20 degrees lift the seat a little higher.
Note – The height of the seat may be adjusted when recovering from surgery to work the muscles in different ways, you should be guided in this by your physiotherapist.
Good technique is important. Keep your knees and feet pointing straight ahead.Keep your arms relaxed and bent at the elbows. If you are too tense the muscular tension in your arms will transfer to your neck and shoulders.
Set the resistance to zero and start pedaling slowly as you warm up.Stop if you feel a sharp pain. Slow down if you feel an ache, you may have started off too quickly.You can often work through aches and pains if you gradually increase the speed and resistance.
Try to spend at least 5 minutes warming up. Listen to your knee, evaluate what it’s doing and adjust the speed and resistance accordingly.
Developing an exercise program
If your knees tolerate the warm up and you feel you can carry on, try to complete 15 minutes of cycling. When starting out begin with low resistance and low speed. You can increase the speed the following days as you begin to feel stronger.
If your knees feel OK the following day, add two minutes to the workout. Keep doing this until you feel comfortable exercising 30 minutes a day.
Increasing the resistance
Once you are comfortably able to complete 30 minutes of cycling a day then you can start increasing the resistance. This will make the muscles work harder. When you increase the resistance then you may need to decrease the time, perhaps going back to a 15-minute workout then building up as before until you can comfortably complete 30 minutes again at the new resistance level.
You can keep doing this as you move up through the resistance settings.
If you have a flare up it is important that you reduce the resistance until you can return to the pain-free level of cycling.
Freshen things up
When you have mastered the basics and built up some strength, endurance and confidence then you can vary the workouts a bit. Try changing the resistance for short periods during the workout or speeding up for 30 seconds then slowing down to recover.
Setting up your bike in front of a TV you could try to cycle through your favourite show or through the first half of a football match for example.
Knee injury? Sore or creaking joints?
Knee problems, when diagnosed early, can often be treated without the need for major surgery. However, when left untreated simple problems can lead to instability pain and disuse. This means the important stabilizing muscles around your knee weaken and this can predispose to more serious injury and pain.
Consider getting your knees checked out before starting a new exercise program. Ask your specialist for advice on how you can look after your knees for the future.
For more information on common knee injuries and treatments check out www.mykneedoc.co.uk