By Amanda Wilks
Even the most cautious and well-prepared cyclist is bound to endure an injury at some point in their riding career. Mountain biking injuries run the gamut from muscle cramps and small scrapes to broken bones and concussions, making it surprisingly easy to wind up with some form of injury you may not have been prepared to handle. Thankfully, most of these are easily preventable if you take the proper steps to avoid allowing them to happen in the first place.
Avoiding injury while biking generally includes being cautious while training or racing, knowing your trail as well as you can and not pushing yourself beyond the limits of your ability. Additionally, wear protective gear and ensure your bike has been maintained properly to avoid mechanical failure that could lead to a nasty spill. For specifics, check out these five common injuries that you should do your best to avoid.
1. Head Injuries
Let’s face facts: Bouncing your head off of the ground isn’t a great way to start any ride. Head injuries make up for a fair number of bike-related hospital visits and brain injuries occasionally worsen the issue on top of the cuts, bruises and fractured skulls that can occur from a particularly nasty fall. Make sure to protect your head when you ride, and you’ll have little to worry about.
Concussions, like any other injury, require a period of rest after sustaining them in order to ensure your body properly heals. See a health professional if you think you’ve suffered a concussion, however, as additional complications could arise from head injuries. Rotational forces are often the cause of concussions rather than simple impacts, so investing in a biking neck brace may be a wise option for the particularly cautious, but isn’t strictly necessary.
2. Broken Bones
Whether it’s a broken finger or a shattered collarbone, breaking a bone is one of the most common mountain biking injuries when adjusting to new terrain.
Avoidance is primarily focused on knowing how best to fall which sounds ridiculous but makes sense in practice. Your average fall at a lower speed likely means you reflexively reach out to help cushion the blow instead of sliding along the ground or rolling, which means your arm and collarbone take the brunt of the hit, often leading to a fracture or break.
Prevention is better than learning how to fall, but there’s a very real chance you’re going to fall more than once in your biking life. Focus on keeping your hands on the handlebars if you sense a fall coming. If at all possible, forming your body into a ball as you make your descent will help with the impact as will landing on your back. Don’t count on being able to snap into a perfect position when a fall suddenly occurs.
3. Muscle Cramps/Hyper Extension
Lower in severity but no less common are muscle cramps, hyper extension and a general feeling of soreness after a ride. It’s understandable to be excited about a ride and forget to take the steps necessary to protect your body from stress or to lose oneself in a ride and overexert while pushing towards the finish line.
Proper stretches and warmups are key in ensuring you don’t overdo a ride, as your body is less likely to suffer from sudden activity if it has been given the chance to warm up beforehand. If your legs or back are the cause of the issue, you might also check the height of your bike seat. Improperly adjusted seats make it easy to develop poor form that might contribute to your average aches and pains.
4. Scrapes and Cuts
While not quite as common as a bruise, an open cut is an invitation for infection that can keep you off of your bike for far too long. Protect your skin by covering up as best you can when dressing for the weather and try to wear materials that offer the least resistance possible should you make contact with the ground to improve your chances of sliding semi-smoothly rather than scraping.
A big fall is probably going to be followed up with a big purple bump somewhere on your body, but they’re hardly the end of the world.
Pads for your elbows and knees as well as wrist and palm guards will handle most of the average spills you’re likely to see, but you can go as far as purchasing off-road biking safety gear that covers your upper chest and shoulders if you’re particularly concerned about taking a fall. As a bonus, you’ll likely sustain fewer cuts and scrapes along the way, too.
Preparing for a bike ride by properly warming up and gearing yourself for the ride ahead can save you from a wild array of mountain biking injuries that are often entirely preventable.
Don’t let the road ahead distract you from the safety of your body. After all, no ride is worth a life full of limping or even a week of overstretched muscles.