Question: I recently developed a bad case of Achilles tendinitis. The real discomfort occurs hours after a ride while walking and climbing stairs. Bicycling is supposed to be low impact. What’s going on? — Harris C.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Many riders think that because cycling is relatively gentle on legs, they’re immune from the injuries we associate with sports like running and basketball. It’s true that you aren’t likely to rupture your Achilles while riding.
Achilles problems in cyclists aren’t due to one explosive wrench that injures the tendon. Instead, they’re caused by repetitive movement. If the saddle is a bit low or you push too hard on hills at a low cadence, little position or technique errors add up. Pretty soon you’re hurting as badly as if you’d tried to dunk from the foul line.
Check these factors:
- Is your saddle high enough? Your body may compensate for a low saddle by bending the ankle too much at the top of the pedal stroke, which in turn puts strain on the Achilles.
- Are you concentrating too much on pulling through at the bottom of the stroke? It’s good to work on this skill occasionally, but in normal riding it shouldn’t be a conscious act. Overemphasis could conceivably cause Achilles strain.
- Are you doing a lot of climbing? Short, steep hills can bring on a case of Achilles tendinitis if you overgear and push hard
Once you’re sure that your position is good, try easing off your climbing. I bet that the problem will resolve during the off-season. If it doesn’t, see a cycling-knowledgeable physician for an evaluation.