Just what is cycling doing to our bodies, and should we be seeking professional help? Cyclist delves into the world of physiotherapy to find out
magine clingfilm – but about half as thick – wrapped underneath your skin but around and over the top of the muscles. That’s the fascia, a thin layer of tissue that’s connected to the muscles,’ explains Dr Matt Stride, consultant in sport and exercise medicine. ‘It runs from your head to your heels, back and front, so you can imagine when your body and muscles are held in the cycling position there is naturally a lot of stress being put through the fascia. Depending on who you are and how long your ride is, that stress can cause a pulling type sensation across the neck, and manifest in headaches. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that?’
I rub a hand across the nape of my neck and nod at Dr Stride. It’s a problem that’s plagued me ever since I stepped up from relatively short, high-intensity spins to longer endurance rides. It’s an odd sensation, rather like a heavy object is getting slowly lowered onto the top of my spine, but one that only seems to crop up after 120km or so, and one that quickly subsides once I hit the shower.
In fact it’s this, as well as several other sporadically occurring niggles – all pretty much coinciding with longer rides – that has finally brought me into Dr Stride’s consultation room at the central London branch of physiotherapists, Isokinetic.
‘So what can you do about it?’ asks Stride. ‘Well, it’s all about trying to do the opposite, trying to open things up, which means doing things like upper limb stretches or just walking around to reduce the tension. The cat type stretch is good – lying on your front and pushing up with your hands to try and extend the spine.’ He motions for me to lie on a padded table and do as he says.
The unbearable tightness of being
Like many cyclists, I’ve always tried to embrace the ‘no pain, no gain’ approach to riding, accepting that putting my body through a degree of discomfort is all part of the cycling philosophy. That, mixed with a (now withering) sense of youthful invincibility that has seen me twice hospitalised in the name of two wheels (a rather unceremonious crash
Simply by getting Cyclist to lie on a table and follow his instructions, a skilled physiotherapist such as Dr Matt Stride can build a picture of the niggles that are causing us pain, what’s causing them and, best of all, how to fix them