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We Asked a Doctor About the Link Between Cycling and Shoulder Pain

Shoulder Pain, Shoulder Injuries, Shoulder Injuries from Cycling

We asked Dr Desmond Ong from Shoulder Elbow Orthopaedic Group about one of his passions, cycling, and some of the commonly seen and experienced injuries and pain points of the sport. Dr Desmond explains why some people experience pain when they first begin cycling, and when it would be best to seek medical advice. 

  1. Tell Us a Little Bit About Your Experience With Cycling As a Sport.

I currently ride a rim brake Pinarello Dogma F12 with Dura-ace Di2 and Scope R3c carbon wheels.

I have been riding seriously since 2006 and, over the years, have gotten to know groups such as Cycleworx, Smile Asia, FOTR, New Moon Khcycle.

Dr Desmond Ong, Bowtie Doctor, Shoulder Pain, Cycling

My life-long love for sports, the fellowship among cyclists, and the need to push my body to understand its limits drives my passion for road riding.

The discipline of training for better performance on the bike is similar to that needed to excel as a surgeon. Dealing with the physical demands of training and the injuries encountered along the way also helps me understand the difficulties my patients go through dealing with their own ailments and injuries and how best to help them overcome these challenges and achieve their goals.

  1. Can Cycling Cause Shoulder Pain? Is Biking Bad For Shoulders? 

Cycling is a sport that engages the whole body. It is, therefore, an excellent sport for building up our core muscle strength and endurance. Therefore, cycling is not necessarily bad for shoulders. However, cycling puts the shoulder at risk of injury and pain because of the load on the upper limbs.

Firstly, a typical riding position would place 40% of a rider’s weight on his upper limbs. This is fairly considerable and may be unique to cycling. Secondly, the body may be placed in the same position for hours, depending on the ride’s duration. 

Therefore like all exercises, excessive stress in terms of frequency, duration and intensity will put the shoulder at risk of injury from overuse or repetitive strain. At the same time, falls and accidents can cause traumatic injury to the shoulder and other parts of a cyclist’s body.

  1. How Do I Stop My Shoulder Pain When Cycling?

Most of us remember cycling as trips taken in our childhood or youth to East Coast or other parks when done on a rental bike. This sense of nostalgia and recognition of cycling’s health benefits have prompted many to pursue the sport in later life. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a global surge in bicycle sales and cycling participation. However, the physical fitness needed to meet more serious cycling demands is often lacking in most sedentary workers. 

Therefore, it is essential when starting out to ride with friends who are of a similar level of experience. This will aid in accommodating a beginner’s needs. At any time during a ride, cyclists should not persist if the shoulders hurt.

Pain is an indication that the load on the shoulder is too excessive. Either due to sub-optimum endurance or strength. Stopping the ride will relieve the burden on the shoulders, allowing the shoulders to get some much-needed rest. Likewise, persisting on may lead to significant injury. 

  1. How to Avoid Shoulder Pain for Cyclists? How to Prevent Sore Shoulders Whilst Cycling?

When starting out, it is important to buy a bicycle from a reputable shop as the initial outlay for a bicycle can be considerable. The shop should be able to fit a buyer with an appropriately sized bike. Additionally, they can make the various adjustments on the different components, e.g stem, handlebar, crank, seat post and saddle. Alternatively, approach a qualified bicycle fitter for a fitting session. 

The multitude of adjustments will ensure that the cyclist’s position on the bicycle is optimum to avoid issues like shoulder pain. A beginner’s position will also be very different from that of an experienced rider. Meaning the shop should adjust the position as one’s experience, and fitness improves. 

As a rule, the beginner’s position may be more upright, and less stretched out so that the load on the shoulders is less. Then as the rider’s experience and fitness improve, the position can be adjusted to a more aerodynamic one desired by the rider.

  1. What Are 3 Common Shoulder Injuries Seen in Cyclists? 

Some common shoulder injuries that are associated with cycling include: 

Shoulder Pain, Shoulder Injuries, Clavicle Fracture
Image of a right clavicle fracture
  • Clavicle Fractures
  • Acromioclavicular Joint Dislocations 
  • Rotator Cuff Tears
  1. When Should I Seek Help From an Orthopaedic Surgeon for My Shoulder Pain? 

Cyclists should seek help immediately if they were involved in any crashes or accidents. Some injuries may not be apparent and will only be diagnosed after an investigation by an orthopaedic surgeon. 

Leaving such injuries undiagnosed puts cyclists at risk of worsening the injuries or sustaining further damages. Secondly, any pain persisting more than 2-3 days or affecting simple activities of daily living should be evaluated by an orthopaedic surgeon.

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