How to avoid common mountain biking injuries
Posted on 9 February 2017
Whether you’re a Cape Epic cross-country rider or a downhill extremist, if you’re out on your mountain bike you could run the risk of a range of injuries. Here’s a look at the most common ones, and how to prevent them happening.
If you’ve ever tried mountain biking (or just watched enough #EPICFAIL YouTube clips), you’ll know MTB is the kind of sport that lends itself to a fair amount of tumbles, falls and wipeouts. So what are the most common mountain-biking injuries, and what can you do to prevent them?
Cuts, scapes and brusies
Most mountain-biking injuries are fall-related and range from wounded pride and light abrasions to a broken collar bone. In fact, University of Salzburg researchers found that the most frequent MTB-related injuries are abrasions (64%) and contusions (56%) – and (hate to break it to you) most injuries are caused by riding errors (72%).
Protect yourself by investing in knee- and armpads, and prevent tumbles by planning your ride so that you know where you’re going and how long it’ll take you – this will reduce the risk of detours and unexpected fatigue. Also, get out of the saddle. One mistake a lot of beginners make is to stay seated. If you stand up in your pedals you’ll shift your centre of gravity, stablise yourself and cut down on the falls.
At the far end of the wipe-out injury spectrum you get head injuries – which is why you always need to wear a helmet. We weren’t kidding when we said MTB carries a high injury risk: a 2008 study review published in the British Medical Bulletin pegged injury rates at 0.37 riders per 100 hours in cross-country biking, and 4.34 riders per 100 hours in downhill racing. So if you’re doing downhill and you’re not wearing a helmet, you’re asking for serious trouble.
Of course, not all MTB injuries are traumatic. The sport also carries the risk of overuse injuries (especially to the knees), which occur due to cycling’s repetitive physical motion. There’s a simple but effective way of preventing this.
‘We see lots of patients who have injuries as a result of poor bike setups,’ says Dan Grobler, a biokineticist at Mediclinic Vergelegen in Somerset West. ‘So you need to go back to the beginning and make sure your bike setup is correct. That’s very important.’
Dan – and most Mediclinic biokineticists like him – offer bike setups as part of their service. ‘We do that, as well as biomechanical assessments to see where your deficiencies are and if you have any predisposition to injury,’ he explains. ‘We then give you programmes to correct the anomalies we find in those assessments, so that you’ll either avoid injury or treat it before it becomes a long-term problem.’
As if knee pain wasn’t bad enough, you could also run the risk of back strain if your bike isn’t set up correctly. But, as Dan points out, pains and strains aren’t all about the bike. Be sure to warm up before you ride, and make flexibility a regular part of your fitness routine.
‘Your muscle conditioning has to be appropriate to what you’re going to be doing,’ Dan warns. ‘So if you’re a downhill rider, your conditioning and muscle stresses are different from a cross-country biker who goes riding through the mountains and forests. Muscle conditioning is very important to prevent injuries, and also to rehabilitate them.’