Welcome to spring – ouch!
If you’ve been diligent about your training over the long winter and think that you’re primed for spring you’re probably right, but I know from experience how frustrating it can be to put lots of hours in over the winter riding indoors and then be injured at the start of the season.
A member of the Westchester Cycle Club recently wrote to me asking about a fitting to hopefully solve pain that started in his lower back went across his right hip and down the outside of his thigh. He explained that the pain developed within the first hour of riding. He’s tried adjusting his saddle and the cleat on his right shoe, but none of these have fixed the problem. Unfortunately this rider is suffering from an IT Band injury caused by overuse so while I recommend that you have your fit checked if you’ve been moving things around to solve an IT Band issue, a bike fit won’t make the pain go away.
If you are experiencing an IT Band problem it is a good practice to retrace your steps leading up to the development of the pain. Did you change anything in your routine? Did you increase your training load a lot (more than say 10%) from one week to the next? Did you come flying out of the gate and do a 50 mile ride with fast friends after not training at all for a couple months? Cycling’s repetitive motion works to strengthen, but also shorten, or make tighter, the cycling muscles that are firing over and over again like your quads. Stretching is the best preventive way to counteract the tightening of your muscles.
A few years ago I developed the same pain as the member described. In my case I had worked on the Computrainer pretty hard over the winter, but had slacked off on the stretching. What started out as discomfort between the top of my pelvis on the left and below my back eventually felt like knee tendinitis and I had to just about stop riding. The work was great for my cycling muscles, but I wasn’t doing enough to stretch things out – my IT Band let me know the error of my over-training ways loud and clear as I discovered with a bit of consultation.
The IT (iiliotibial) band runs along the outside of the thigh. The over-trained muscles around my IT Band were pulling on it in an unhappy way. I used a foam roller and some simple exercises to work out the literal kinks in the muscles around and in the IT Band. Over the course of six to eight weeks I was able to fully recover and continued to ride throughout the recovery period while paying attention to the intensity of my training and very gradually increased it as my IT Band got better. Since then I’ve incorporated the foam roller in my core strength and stretching workouts with good success and my IT Bands have not been a problem. I think that a good off-season program should include diversity in the training. Just being on the bike all year round is ok, but taking a break and/or adding working on other muscles in conjunction with stretching will really help you get your legs (and head) going better, sooner the following cycling season.
My situation is not necessarily typical, but stretching and self-massage with a foam roller also won’t typically make a situation worse. If you have recurrent pain that is getting worse from riding the best advice I can offer is to have yourself checked out by a medical professional to get a proper diagnosis and course for treatment. After that consult a fitter to make sure that your setup is not contributing to the problem no matter if it’s anywhere from your toes to the top of your head. Since we’re in the early-days of the riding please season don’t wait around hoping that an injury which seems to be getting worse with each ride will take care of itself. There is plenty of time to recover and enjoy a great season of riding!
Here are a few links to read and see a bit more: