Disclaimer: Reading an article is NOT a substitute for proper medical attention. If you are injured for real, go get that shit taken care of.
It's September and, if you’re like me, your body is a mess of nagging mountain bike injuries. I’ve got one contused ac joint (shoulder), a broken shoulder-blade, bruised ribs, a hyper-extended left elbow and a sore left knee. It’s time to heal.
Whether transitioning to snow sports, or riding through the winter, the list below outlines how to help yourself rally at this point in the season.
One brief word before we get into the list; I fully understand how time off the bike makes riders bats, and the desire to get back on and pedal through it for the sake of doing what we love is incredibly strong. Be smart and take the time to heal up or you'll just double the length of time you're out of the game or, worse, risk an even more serious injury.
Just rattling along. Dave Peters photo
#1) Treat stressed joints. Keep it cool. Hyperice photo
Elbows, knees and wrists begin to wear from constant spinning and rock-garden pounding. Ice those joints. Even though ice’s greatest benefit comes at the acute injury phase, keep on doing it to joints that are just sore and worn. Take some ice from the car cooler and drive home with a ziplock bag around a sore knee. Or hold one on while watching TV at night. Remember to never put the ice bag directly on your skin. For me, ice cubes in a ziplock bag work just fine, but if you want a clever home-health hack: mix equal parts dawn dish soap and isopropyl alcohol in a ziplock bag, tape it shut and, voila! - homemade reusable ice pack.
Most of us know enough buy the bulk bottles of anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen; they too are most effective right at the time of injury, but also help manage pain and swelling as you recover.
#2) Muscles need to be stretched. Roll it out. Hyperice photo
Start getting serious about your post-ride stretch and foam roll. Current wisdom indicates stretching has the most benefit right after exercise – but if you want to do a session in the morning, it can’t hurt.
#3) Keep core muscles in good shape. As we go through a season we’ll ride more and hit the gym for abs and strength less. Back injuries like muscle strains and herniated disks are very common at the end of a season. If legs are your engine, core is the transmission. Keep on planking.
#4) Double check bike fit. Iliotibial band (the tendon that runs down the outside of each leg) friction and Patello- femoral (kneecap) syndrome are typical mountain bike ‘knee injuries’. Both are mostly due to weak gluteus and stabilizing muscles and maladjusted bike fits. A dull, ache-y, non-localized pain might mean your bike fit is off or your shoes need to be replaced.
#5) Rest - Best thing you can do. Make yourself take a day or two off to heal. Or a week. If you must work out, do something that takes stress off whatever body part hurts. Don’t push through pain. Three days off could save you a month of injury. Each person is different, of course. If you are banged up, there is no common timeframe for comeback. If in doubt, check with the doctor.
#6) Mix some cross training back in to your week.Just don't talk about Crossfit. Reebok photo
This has two advantages: It allows those cycling-specific muscles to take a break and it strengthens those supporting muscles around what you use on the bike. Cross training is also great for transitioning out of one sport and into another. Cyclists generally get really tight hips and their hamstrings are underused – focus on getting those back into top form.
#7) Warm up more. On your ride days, get there a bit before the rest of the group and warm up completely. Take a 1-mile out-and-back to get everything warmed up before you all start hammering out of the trailhead.
For Acute Injuries
Could be trouble. GW Photo
When you crash, your body responds by dumping chemicals into your bloodstream to keep itself going. So you might not know immediately that something’s wrong. Once the ‘shock’ wears off you’ll have a clearer picture of what is going on. Hopefully you’re not alone, but here’s a few things to look out for.
#8) Any sharp pains are not normal. It’s difficult to assess what’s just muscle or more serious, but listen to your own body. Ask yourself - can you lift your arm (leg, wrist etc.). Do some light palpation to feel for broken bones.
#9) If you hit your head, ask yourself, am I ok? What’s the date, where are we, what am I doing. For 12-24 hours afterwards you should be paying attention to how you feel.
#10) If in doubt, walk out.
And always consult an orthopaedic physician for any injuries. Make friends with one, keep him/her on speed dial.