Helping you detect, treat and manage arthritis

Cycling: A low-impact exercise for people with arthritis

Picture of a bike for cyclingWhen American Olympic gold medal cyclist Kristin Armstrong was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her hips in 2001, she decided to focus on cycling. She is the second American woman to win a gold medal in cycling. Besides cycling, Armstrong does an exercise routine that involves stretching and yoga to keep her arthritis pain at bay.

Low-impact exercises are the best types of exercise for people living with arthritis. Examples of low-impact exercises include swimming, walking, and cycling. These sports are less stressful to weight-bearing joints, especially the spine, hips, feet, knees and ankles.

If you are inspired by the Cycling Road event happening today at the Rio 2016 Olympics and would like to try cycling for yourself, here are some tips to optimize your cycling experience:

1. Find the right bike

You should visit a bicycle shop to find the right bike size for your body frame. Test ride the bike to ensure you are comfortable on it. What and where you plan to bike helps you determine what type of bike to get—cruiser (city) bike, mountain bike, or hybrid bike.

The August 2014 issue of JointHealth™ insight provides a good summary of the common types of bike in the market. A cruiser bike is suitable for recreational riding on a smooth and flat terrain and has higher handlebars and lower seats. A mountain bike is designed with wide tires with heavy treads for cycling on off-the-beaten-path trails. It has a thicker frame and includes suspensions, which provides better stability. A hybrid bike is a bike that combines the features of both a cruiser and a mountain bike.

2. Find the right condition

The right condition ranges from weather to road conditions to how you feel physically and mentally. If you are not confident about biking outdoor or if there is rain or wind in the forecast, stationary cycling provides the same benefit of biking. Plan your cycling routine around your medication schedule. For example, if you feel your best after you have taken your medication, exercise after. If you are experiencing a flare, schedule your exercise for another day. It is also important to stay focused and alert while bicycling to ensure your own safety.

3. Follow safety rules

Safety rules exist to protect everyone.  In most places, it is against the law to bike without a helmet. Bicyclists should be aware that they are subjected to the same rules and regulations as drivers of motor vehicles. It is also useful to equip your bike with mirrors, reflectors, lights, and bells.

4. Use a cycling technique that is suitable for your level

A cycling trainer or health professional can help you determine your skill level and develop a technique that works for you. They can also recommend a cycling routine for you with specifications on the duration and intensity of your biking sessions.

5. What to do before and after exercising

It is important to warm-up and cool down before and after exercising. Doing range of motion exercises, such as stretching, will help maintain or increase joint flexibility and reduce stiffness and pain. Alternatively, you can apply heat to areas where you are experiencing pain. If you are in pain more than two hours after you exercise, you may need to do less the next time. This allows you to gradually develop your strength and length of exercise time while maintaining joint and muscle safety. Finally, you should keep a journal of how you feel during and after exercising. This allows you to track your exercise patterns and modify your routine where appropriate.