Is Cycling Good for Knee Pain?

Sports & Activity

The right low-impact exercises can do a world of good for your joints. Here's how cycling can be especially good for your knees.

Last updated: June 15, 2022
6 min read
Why Cycling Is Good for Knee Pain

Dealing with knee pain can make exercising a struggle. You want your workout to feel good and not be something you simply get through only to deal with inflammation and discomfort afterwards. Having knee pain may mean adjusting your exercise routine and choosing the right shoes. Instead of doing activities that are hard on your knees, you’ll opt for exercises that give you and your muscles a pain-free workout.

Cycling is great exercise for anyone, and it's especially good for people with knee pain.

Cycling Can Actually Be Good for Your Knees

Because bike riding is a low-impact exercise, it puts less stress on weight-bearing joints. This not only includes your knees, but also your hips and feet. Even better, the movement your legs make pushing on the pedals works out certain joints, which can help reduce pain or stiffness. Cycling can also improve range of motion in your knees, so if you suffer from both pain and stiffness, your bicycle may help loosen things up.

Cyclists enjoy these low-impact benefits to their knees and other joints, and cycling also provides a great cardio workout. The exercise can support overall health, strengthening your heart and lungs and even improving muscle function of cyclists.

Biking Is A Great Option if You Have Arthritis

For riders whose knee pain results from a chronic condition like arthritis, riding a bike can offer a great remedy to regular symptoms. This includes joint pain and difficulty moving. While other exercises may prove too hard due to arthritis, bike riding is often a great option for those with arthritic knees.

The Flexibility of Cycling

For those who suffer from knee pain, the best kind of exercise not only works out the joints, but it also gives increased flexibility. However, knee pain can feel different on different days, so you also need a workout you can control. You want the ability to adjust the intensity and slow things down on days where pain levels are higher. You also want the ability to ramp things up when pain is at a minimum.

Riding a bike enables you to set the intensity each time you hop on. Not only can you pick your route to suit your mood, but you can also use the bike itself to modify the impact on your knees.

When your legs need a break, simply coast for a bit. You can also downshift into the lower gears to lower the intensity of your pedaling. Going hard or light makes no real difference when it comes to stretching out sore knees and reducing stiffness and discomfort, so create the workout that works best for you.

The Right Bike for the Job

When it comes to what type of bike is best for bad knees, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. To find the right bicycle, you have to have the right fit. Anyone at a local bike shop can help ensure you have a bike fitted to your specific proportions. Having the right size bike will make sure riding doesn't make your knee pain worse.

The most important area to check is the seat position on your bike. If it’s too high or too low, it will impact how your knees bend each time you pedal. The optimal position puts your knees at a 45-degree angle when at the top of a stroke. It also leaves a small bend in your knees when you extend your leg at the bottom.

While you’re making adjustments, check the position of your pedals. How close they are to the bike itself can affect knee pain. To test if they're in the right spot, you should be able to center your feet on the pedals without any pain when you point your toes forward.

And All The Other Necessary Bike Gear

Your bike is key to cycling, but so is the rest of the gear associated with the workout. This includes shoes and clothing that won’t hinder your aerodynamics as you fly down through your route.

Although you can bicycle in any shoe, if you’re cycling regularly to address knee pain, you may want a shoe designed for cycling. Features to look for include:

  • Stiff soles
  • Cleats (2 or 3)
  • Minimal tread — these shoes aren’t for walking
  • Arch support

Cycling shoes have different types of closure styles, so you can pick the one that works best for your feet. You can opt for dials, laces, straps or even buckles.

Bike-specific clothing, such as tights for men and tights for women, can make your ride more comfortable as well. It can also make you more visible when on the road. Look for clothing with:

  • Stretchy fabric that makes it easy to move, but also stays in place
  • Moisture-wicking properties that reduce friction
  • Waterproof and windproof features if necessary for where you ride
  • Breathable fabric that also dries quickly, like Nike Dri-FIT

Most cycling clothing is form-fitting to help with aerodynamics and you should look for clothing that has a reflective patch for your safety when biking at night.

When getting gear, there’s one more important piece to remember — the helmet. Find one that fits well, with a design you like. There’s no reason your gear can’t feel stylish while protecting you from injury.

Outdoor vs. Indoor Cycling

When dealing with knee pain, you may opt to cycle inside on a stationary bike to retain more control over the intensity and length of your ride. You won’t have to deal with sidewalks, unexpected hurdles or the start-and-stop at street crossings. Outdoor cycling does give you some great scenery and lets you change things up from day-to-day. With outdoor cycling, there's the added perk of combining your exercise routine with an errand or two. Cycling to a specific destination and back can make it easy to stay motivated while checking an item off your to-do list.

Indoor cycling, on the other hand, puts you in complete control. You can adjust resistance at any point during a ride, and hop off when you’re done without having to conserve enough energy to get all the way home. You can ride in any weather, and at any time of year, which may prove more beneficial in creating a routine to help reduce the symptoms associated with knee pain.

Your Choices for an Indoor Bike

Based on the severity of the situation with your knees, you may prefer one stationary bike over another. Recumbent bikes, for example, take all the pressure off your knees, so they are great if you’ve moved cycling indoors because you experience pain on a traditional bike.

Stationary bikes are also nicer to your knee joints, but let you experience the same workout if you were cycling outside and actually moving. They’re better for those with knee pain who prefer an indoor workout simply because they want to:

  • Watch TV while cycling
  • Cycle with a group in a class
  • Have a safer environment to ride
  • Set very specific workout routines

Picking the Right Exercise for Knee Pain

Even if you’re hesitant about exercising at all when suffering from knee pain, you do have options that'll give your legs and muscles a workout and avoid injury. Cycling on the regular, with a bicycle that’s fit right to you, can both give you an exercise routine that’s easy on the knees and also improve your knee health and reduce pain. Seems like cycling and your knees just go together.

Originally published: December 30, 2021