Houston podiatrist discusses how to avoid biking injury when you train for a triathlonGot heel pain from cycling in the midst of triathlon training? You're not alone! When you're training for a triathlon, there are so many moving parts in your weekly routine. Managing your swimming, running and biking regimens can feel like a full time job. Now, we know how difficult it is to cram in extra training sessions. But we also know that a foot injury will slow down your training. In fact, if you over-do it on pre-race prep, you may end up sidelined completely. 

Now, we spend a lot of time talking about running injuries on this blog. It's only natural, since running puts a lot of pressure on your feet. But you also need to realize that biking puts pressure on your feet as well. This is especially true if your feet are working overtime, on the road and on the pedals, as you prep for the next big race. 

So, in recognition of all your hard work, today we're sharing some very important safety tips. We hope they'll help you avoid a bike-related triathlon injury. And, if you've already got heel pain cycling the streets for training, we'll help you get fast relief! 

Bike-Related Triathlon Injuries: Heel Pain When Cycling and More

To many athletes, the biking part of a triathlon seems like the easiest in the race. But logging miles on your bike can still do a lot of damage. (Especially if you aren't careful about your training sessions.) These are the conditions you need to watch out for: 

Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles tendinitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon that is quite painful. You can develop this injury because of overuse of the tendon. (Remember, biking puts a lot of strain on your calves.) But it could also develop if your bike doesn't fit properly. And that's because a too-high bike seat makes you point your toes downward as you pedal. In turn, your calf muscles contract far too much with each pedal.

Already feeling heel pain when cycling? Make sure to stretch your calf muscles before and after a ride. Consider adding custom orthotics to your cycling shoes. And think about taking a few days off of training, while taking daily anti-inflammatories, to allow your Achilles tendon to heal. 

Want to avoid this injury in the future? Don’t overdo the distances when you bike. Keep your seat adjusted at a comfortably low height. (That allows your Achilles tendon to get a break between pedals and rides.) And, while  it's tough not to practice your long ride distances at regular pre-race intervals, it's smarter not to. Instead, you can build up stamina in other ways, reducing the times when you bike race-day distances. 

Shin Splints

Shin splints develop because of irritation to your lower leg, Symptoms include pain or swelling. Like Achilles tendinitis, bikers develop this injury because of overuse. And that overuse is usually because of imbalances that make supportive muscles and tendons work too hard when you pedal. We often see this injury in bikers with collapsed arches or flat feet. To avoid shin splints, always stretch before and after a bike ride, And, if flat feet are an issue, consider adding orthotics to your kicks.

Hot Foot

Otherwise known as metatarsalgia, this condition is characterized by a painful burning in the ball of your foot. The sudden, burning sensation presents while you're cycling, and may get better when you're off your bike. Now, the problem is usually caused by a combination of a long ride, hot weather and poorly fitting shoes. Because, together, these elements pinch on the nerves in your feet and cause pain that can’t be biked through. 

Why is that the only solution? Basically, your hot foot pain comes from the nerves that feed your toes. Those nerves are vulnerable, because they pass through the small space between your foot bones and the ball of your foot. And that's almost exactly where your cleats put pressure on your feet. Making things worse? Those cleats are stiff and inflexible. And not so breathable, so your feet get hot and swollen inside them. Then, as your feet expand, they push against your inflexible shoes, and that makes the pressure on your nerves even worse. As a result, the longer you ride, or the hotter the weather, the worse your symptoms will get. 

Once you've developed hot foot, the only way to stop this problem is to get off your bike, remove your shoes and let your feet cool down. But, before your next ride, you’ll want to take preventative measures on your next ride. And there are easy and minimally invasive measures you can take. First, you can make sure you get the perfect fit on your cleats. But, if your foot shape is unusual, or your biomechanics are off, that may not be enough to prevent hot foot. In such cases, you can add supportive insoles or custom orthotics to your cycling shoes in order to take pressure off your nerves.

Working Indoor Cycling into Your Training

Now, all of these tips can help protect your feet from heel pain when cycling (and other injuries). But some could still develop heel pain when cycling from taking every training session outdoors. If that's the case, you can always try moving some of your training session onto the recumbent bicycle. Why does this help people with foot problems? Because, instead of the up-and-down movement of a standard bicycle, recumbent bikes move in an out-and-down motion. And that reduces the impact on your feet. 

Don't love the recumbent bike? Try a stationary bike instead. Or, if you want a more intense workout that minimizes pressure on the feet? Try cycling at a greater intensity but with lower resistance! This combination is easier on the feet than the high-intensity, high-resistance combination. 

Of course, as we indicated above, proper form will also minimize pain during indoor rides. Your feet should fit snugly in the pedals. When you are at the lowest point of  rotation, your knees should be bent slightly and your toes should be level—not pointing up or flexing down.

Whether you're a competitive cycler training for a triathlon, or biking for fun, the sport delivers some of the highest highs you'll ever experience. (But only if you take care of your feet.) Experiencing heel pain from cycling or other triathlon-related foot injuries?  Contact Houston podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider right away. We'll get you back to the activity you love. Without the pain!