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Common winter cycling injuries and how to avoid them

Emma Cole
20 Dec 2021

A warm-up routine is crucial to avoiding injury in cold weather

Winter technically starts on December 21s but whatever the season is officially, cold weather often brings slippery, hazardous roads, and thus a potentially higher risk of injury when cycling outside.

We spoke to the experts to find out what the most common winter injuries are and what cyclists can do to avoid them.

Tendon injuries from cycling

In cold weather, the risk of injury increases due to muscular tightness which puts additional pressure on joints and tendons.

'Tendon injuries, such as tendonitis, can be exacerbated in winter as cold weather can lead to a decrease in blood flow,' explains Glenn Etherington, Senior Physiotherapist at Ultra Sports Clinic.

'If a suitable warm-up routine is not adhered to, it is harder for the blood to circulate around the body warming you and your muscles up.

'The body’s pain receptors can then become more sensitised making an initial niggle or injury feel far worse than it is, making it harder to cycle.

'The decreased blood flow also increases muscular fatigue post-training causing more muscular ache – another reason for an increased injury risk upon your next cycle.'

Clothing layers can also aggravate these potential tendon issues, according to Nichola Roberts, Specialist Cycling Physiotherapist at VeloPhysio.

'Overshoes, zips in tights and leg warmers which compress the Achilles tendon can cause peri tendonitis.

'Knee warmers and tights that are ill fitting can also aggravate knee pain with excessive compression over the knee cap. This is usually exacerbated when wet.

'It is crucial to ensure that you have full movement in whatever you wear and ensure that both your knee and ankle tendon are free from compression.'

Fractures from cycling

For Roberts, however, the most common injury relates to fractures caused by falling on ice, something even a set of the best winter road bike tyres can't prevent.

These are usually of the collarbone, but she has also regularly seen pelvis, shoulder and hip fractures.

'It is important to look at the weather forecast even if where you are cycling might be ice free.

'Ice can be unpredictable, under puddles, in shady corners and by leaking pipes, and it is often a few degrees colder on country lanes.'

A 2018 Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents paper found that falling on ice was the second highest cause of cyclist admissions to English hospitals, the first being colliding with a vehicle.

The paper found that around 10,000 cyclists visit A&E every year as a result of slipping on ice.

Should I warm up before a bike ride?

According to Dan Guillemette, Specialist Cycling Physiotherapist at CHHP, the most important thing to do in order to minimise the risk of injury is to have a short warm up routine

'Having a short warm up routine can be really beneficial, especially when the weather is very cold.

'Whether that is integrating a short dynamic stretch & warm up with a few simple exercises and mobility drills or starting your ride with a higher cadence.'

He adds that cyclists should not forgo the warmup when riding indoors.

Insurance for cyclists

Given the risks associated with winter cycling, it is advisable to have a solid insurance plan, not just for your bike but also for you.

However, of note is that cycling insurance company Pedalsure does not see an increase in personal injury claims in winter.

'It seems counter intuitive given the more treacherous conditions but it's likely down to a combination of a few factors, including fewer people cycling during winter generally and winter cyclists tending to be experienced year-round cyclists which could mean they are more careful on the roads,' explains Pedalsure claims manager, Chloe Greener.

'We generally see a noted increase in personal injury claims at the start of the season (April/May) due to more people cycling, many of whom who haven't ridden for 4-6 months.'

Whatever the weather, make sure you're prepared with our guide on cycling through winter. And for more tips, head to our winter cycling advice hub page.

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