Although saddle and handlebar comfort are both vital for comfortable cycling, it's the pedal-foot interface that is the primary site for that all-important energy transfer from you to your bike.
Yet while lots of studies have been carried out on cycling injuries of neck, arms, buttock, perineum and knees related to handlebar and saddle design and set-up, there's very little scientific data on foot injuries that occur as a result of cycling and in particular, the pedal-foot interface.
Thankfully Australian scientists have now conducted a study to try and identify the typical types of foot injury suffered by cyclists and how common these are.
In the study, the researchers set out to answer four questions about foot injuries encountered by cyclists:
1) What is the distribution of age, gender, foot/pedal interface use and distances cycled among cyclists who experience foot pain?
2) What type of pain and what region of the foot do cyclists typically experience pain in?
3) What techniques do cyclists use to try to cope with/overcome foot pain caused by cycling?
4) Are there key groups of cyclists at greater risk of foot pain than others?
To do this, an electronic survey was used to collect information from cyclists within South Australia, during December 2010. Cyclists were invited to take part and complete the survey if they were riding a non-stationary, upright bicycle at least once per week for a minimum of one continuous hour, and were at least 18 years of age.
The study's 397 subjects were drawn from Bike SA (the main representative body for South Australian cyclists) as well as Mega Bike (a large bicycle shop in Adelaide) and staff and students of the School of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia. The cyclists were asked to provide information about their level of cycling participation, the pedal interface used (clipless/toe-straps etc) and the types of foot pain suffered.
In a nutshell
The first key finding was that over half of the cyclists (53.9 per cent) reported experiencing foot pain while cycling. Secondly, it was the forefoot region of the foot that was most likely to be affected by pain (accounting for 61 per cent of foot pain reports), with the participants reporting that the toenails, toes and ball of the foot were particular problem areas. The cyclists typically described the pain as ‘burning' and/or ‘numbness'.
The most common methods of dealing with this kind of pain included stopping during the ride, shoe removal, walking around and massaging/stretching the foot. In terms of risk, cyclists who rode with an attached foot-pedal interface (ie clipless and toe-straps/cage) were 2.6 times more likely to suffer foot pain than those who did not and there was also a correlation with age - cyclists under the age of 26 years were less likely to suffer foot pain than those over 26.
This study reveals just how common foot pain can be among cyclists. The fact that ‘cleated in' shoes increased the risk of pain is no surprise; studies have already shown that these types of shoe tend to localise plantar (base of the foot) pressures, which in turn can be detrimental to nerve and blood supply integrity in that region.
Overall, these results suggest that cycling shoe design and choice could be as important as saddle and handlebar options if you want to remain pain-free on the bike!
Journal of Science and Cycling 2012; 1(2): 28-34
This article was first published in the June 20 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition (opens in new tab), UK digital edition (opens in new tab). And if you like us, rate us!
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