It is often said that there are two categories of mountain bikers - those who have experienced a crash and those who will in the future. Thrills also come with a few spills and even the most proficient mountain bikers are susceptible. In fact, if you haven’t crashed yourself, you are likely to know someone who has taken a tumble.
Many mountain bikers will walk away from a crash with a few cuts, scrapes and bruises that won’t cause any problems, but sometimes, more substantial injuries will be sustained. Acute mountain biking injuries are mainly caused by the trauma of falling, but spending a lot of time in the saddle can also lead to overuse injuries.
Here are 5 of the most common mountain biking injuries, how to prevent them, and what their treatment and rehabilitation processes look like.
No professional mountain biker ever wants to hear the word broken collarbone, because it will always result in substantial disruption to their racing season. Casual mountain bikers should also expect to spend several weeks out of the saddle, as it is important to fully recover from such a significant injury to avoid long-term issues.
Fractures and broken bones are usually sustained during a fall. Broken collarbones are especially common, as many mountain bikers will either land on their shoulder or an outstretched arm when attempting to break a fall. Mountain bikers with a broken collarbone will feel a very sharp pain across the front of their shoulder and there might even be some immediate swelling or bruising.
The arm should be immediately immobilised with all suspected collarbone injuries. Ice should be applied to the area as soon as possible and medical attention should be sought quickly. Broken collarbones will sometimes require surgery and all will require a substantial period of rehabilitation to recover full strength and movement around the shoulder joint.
Acromioclavicular (AC) joint sprain
AC joint sprains are slightly less serious than broken collarbones, but are often sustained in very similar ways. Often referred to as shoulder separations, the AC joint ligament is attached to the front of the shoulder blade on the outer side of the collarbone.
Falls, particularly falling over the handlebars, commonly lead to AC sprains. Although pain might initially be fairly widespread, it will generally become more localised over time. Immobilising the shoulder, applying ice and seeking medical attention as soon as possible are all important to prevent further damage to the shoulder and to alleviate the pain.
Torn leg muscles and ankle injuries
Whether you ride with flat or clip-in pedals, your shoes will not offer much ankle protection when compared with the solid boots that motorcyclists typically wear. Also, riding with tight hamstrings or calves can result in painful torn muscles that will necessitate some time away from the saddle.
Properly warming up and cooling down before and after riding will vastly reduce the risk of experiencing a torn muscle, but it is also important not to push yourself beyond your ability, as working too fast or hard can also cause damage.
Mild leg and ankle injuries will likely feel tender or bruised, but it should be possible to continue cycling and enjoying physical activity. More serious injuries will be more painful and as well as swelling and tenderness, you might also experience some loss of muscle strength.
Treatment and rehabilitation will typically involve a course of painkillers and physiotherapy to restore strength and movement. Occasionally, severely torn muscles will require surgery to be repaired fully.
Knee and lower back pain
Cycling is a very repetitive physical activity and both prolonged periods of bending and the overuse of muscles can result in painful lower back and knee injuries.
Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome (ITBFS) is often referred to as ‘Runners Knee’. It is also common amongst mountain bikers and can lead to uncomfortable inflammation around the knee joint. Mountain bikers experiencing lower back pain might be suffering from a herniated disc that is putting pressure on important back muscles and nerves.
Ensuring your mountain bike is correctly set up will go a long way towards preventing these types of injuries. Selecting the correct saddle size and frame height will ensure knee joints don’t overextend and that the back isn’t unnecessarily overreaching or hunched for extended periods of time.
While it is possible to continue cycling as long as appropriate straps, braces and aids are used, most mountain bikers will be advised to undertake a full course of physiotherapy to restore strength and movement and to prevent additional damage.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Pressure on the wrist’s median nerve, which provides feeling to the thumbs, index and middle fingers, can result in carpal tunnel syndrome. Keeping your wrist straight and raising the height of your handlebars will reduce the weight and pressure placed on your wrists, but this might not be enough to prevent injury altogether.
Although not typically a serious injury, the numbness and tingling can become chronic and distinctly uncomfortable. Symptoms will normally dissipate after a period of rest. However, sometimes surgery will be required to ease pressure on the nerve if the condition has not been diagnosed or appropriately treated early on.
If you do sustain an injury when mountain biking, it is always important to stay calm and seek help as soon as possible. Painkillers may be administered if necessary, but as serious injuries might require surgery, it is often recommended that unnecessary fluids and/or food are avoided. Mountain biking is a very rewarding physical activity and although the risk of injury is always present, warming up properly and investing in a good quality bike, protective clothing and other equipment will go a long way towards preventing injuries.