Mountain Bike Injuries

18 Aug 2023

Mountain biking is a fantastic way to get some exercise and enjoy some of the incredible scenery in the country. It is a growing sport with more and more amazing tracks and trails constantly popping up. Other recent changes include different types of mountain biking, e-bikes and more and more people using mountain bikes to commute daily. Unfortunately, with such a huge following for the sport in New Zealand, we do see a lot of people who have sustained injuries from mountain biking.

Essentially there are three different ways people get injured; a one-off incident that causes an injury, repetitive movements, and prolonged postures or positioning that ends up causing problems over a long period of time. Mountain biking injuries come from all three categories. The sport's nature also means a relatively high incidence of injury. Around half of all riders are likely to sustain an injury. A 2008 Article by Carmont in the British Medical Bulletin states that injury incidence is 0.49% for cross-country riding and 0.51% for downhill.

Some of the most common injuries include cuts and bruises from falls, clavicle (collar bone) injuries, acromioclavicular joint injuries (a joint in the shoulder area), low back pain and neck pain. Concussions are, unfortunately, also common in mountain biking. While we think about most injuries coming from fast downhill mountain biking, that is not always the case. Fiore et al. suggest that head and neck injuries are the most serious. At Habit Health, we help people with a huge range of injuries sustained in mountain biking, from low-level strains and sprains to more significant musculoskeletal injuries and significant head and neck injuries. Our wide-ranging multidisciplinary team includes physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, rehab coaches and counsellors. All can have a part to play in these injuries.

While it is easy to think that there is nothing you can do to prevent a one-off injury, there is plenty to suggest this is not the case. The risk of one-off, repetitive, and prolonged types of injuries can all be reduced with better planning, preventative measures, strength and conditioning and mobility work. That of course doesn’t mean these types of injury will be eliminated altogether, but some common things may help.

Cycling is done in an awkward posture with hips and knees bent. Certain muscles work really hard in each revolution, which can mean specific muscle groups become stiffer. I often see lower back pain in cyclists because of repetitive movement in this kind of posture. Hip flexors at the front of the hip usually end up stiff too. Stiffness in both of those muscle groups can contribute to lower back pain. Try incorporating some sports-specific stretching into your strength and conditioning routine (I hear some of you saying ‘what routine’). Step 1: Establish a strength and conditioning routine that includes hamstring and hip flexor stretching.

Cyclists often develop stiffness down the front of the body generally. In a relatively bent forward posture (even more so in road cycling), it is important to stretch the muscles on the front (including hip flexors and chest muscles, for example), but also equally important to practice some strengthening exercises for the back of the body too. Less experienced riders might start with mat-type exercises – including a bird dog on all fours with good posture and straightening out one arm and one leg. Higher-level riders should incorporate things like deadlifts into their routine. Bird dog is also a great exercise to help develop neck and core stability too.

Developing neck and core stability could help to prevent a more serious neck injury, for example. The more work you do off your bike, the less likely you will sustain an injury on the bike. I like incorporating balance exercises, full-body core stability, and proprioception into a cyclist's routine. Suppose you do exercises on a Bosu (including simple squats and lunges, for example) or Swiss ball (in a sitting, prone or supine position). In that case, your whole body becomes more resilient and responsive, reducing your injury risk. When considering a routine to help reduce the risk of injuries in mountain biking, try to include the following:

  1. Mobility for the front of the body, including hip flexors and chest.
  2. Strengthening the body's back line, including glutes and muscles along the back and neck.
  3. Core stability work in 4 points kneeling or prone position to help develop neck stability.
  4. Balance/proprioception work – full body ideally – and use an unstable base like a Bosu or Swiss ball.

At Habit Health, we are here to help. As part of our sponsorship of Nelson Mountain Biking Club, we would like to hear your questions and help to reduce mountain biking injuries in the region. We plan to write more articles soon to help, including current concussion guidelines.

Stay well folks and enjoy those amazing trails and tracks.

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