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Bicycling for People with Osteoarthritis

Updated on August 28, 2012
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer who ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

A guide to the effect of bicycling on osteoarthritis

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the gradual wearing down of the cartilage layers within your joints. It can even lead in extreme cases to your bones rubbing against each other. It is most prominently seen to affect the knees, hips and spinal column.

Osteo arthritis is the most common form of arthritis and we often attribute it to the 'wear and tear' of our joints.

Can cycling ease the symptoms of osteo arthritis?

Can regular cycling exercise help with osteoarthritis symptoms?
Can regular cycling exercise help with osteoarthritis symptoms? | Source

What is the best form of exercise for osteoarthritis?

Specialists in the treatment of osteo arthritis recommend low impact activities for sufferers to maintain and develop mobility while placing minimal impact stress onto joints.

Examples of low impact activities for osteoarthritis

Great low impact activities include

  • bicycling,
  • swimming
  • gentle walking
  • aqua aerobics

These activities place minimal stress on load bearing joints while allowing gentle activity.

Please Note- if you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis it is recommended to seek medical advice and guidance prior to commencing any program of exercise.

The importance of exercise if you have osteoarthritis

If you suffer with osteoarthritis it is important to keep your joints and muscles mobile. Exercise from becoming stiff and weak. Exercise can help to guard against this while helping to maintain a sensible body weight to avoid excessive stress on your joints which can lead to further degeneration in condition.

Exercises that help to strengthen your muscles and the ligaments around a joint help to prevent additional stress on a joint. For example, stronger thigh muscles can help to reduce the levels of stress on your knees and hip joints.

Proven effects of exercise on arthritis sufferers

  • Improve the function of joints
  • Can delay the requirement for surgery
  • Help to Improve posture and balance in older adults with arthritis leading to a decreased risk of falls.

Any old bike will do to help relieve pain symptoms

Any bike can help increase mobility and decrease pain from osteoarthritis
Any bike can help increase mobility and decrease pain from osteoarthritis | Source

What are the best types of cycling for osteoarthritis sufferers?

Stationary bicycles such as the upright exercise bikes and recumbent cycles that you find within a gym environment are a great option for sufferers of osteo arthritis as the rider is in control of how hard they work and can tailor the workout to place limited amounts of stress on their joints

Cycling outdoors is a fantastic way to get around in the fresh air and be able to be in the great outdoors, however it throws up challenges such as hills which can place additional stress on the knee joints as the rider is forced to push hard through the pedals. Therefore outdoor cycling is only recommended on flat paths where the rider can try to remain seated while cycling as this places the least stress through the knee joints

Canal towpaths are a great place to ride as they're predominantly flat and offer great scenery too

Steer clear of mountain biking and riding in hilly areas as these place additional stress onto the joints of the knee, hips and vertebrae.

Can osteoarthritis lead to pain after cycling exercise?

Unfortunately yes- you can experience some pain after cycling exercise if you have osteoarthritis. It is only natural as a result of the weakened joint function you are experienced. This pain in mild forms is relatively natural and you should not use it as an excuse to give up on cycling.

Your doctor may be able to prescribe some anti inflammatory medicines to reduce additional swelling and help alleviate pain symptoms.


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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks Michael. Cycling and other low impact activities are proven to have such proven long term positive effects on osteoarthritis that the initial pain from activity has to be overlooked.

      Thanks for your comment CF

    • Michael J Rapp profile image

      Michael J Rapp 5 years ago from United States

      Great advice. It's a catch 22 with arthritis where activity can help alleviate symptoms yet sufferers find it so tough to get started. Sometimes when it comes to pain management I think a positive outlook goes a long way, and starting a new activity like cycling might provide some great new motivation.