It seems like our riding group always has at least one person nursing an injury. What are the top 10 most common mountain bike injuries and what are some tips to avoid them?
Common Mountain Bike Injuries
- Skin abrasions and scratches
- Low back pain
- Knee pain or inflammation
- Hand and wrist injury from falls
- Shoulder injury or dislocation
- Saddle sore
- Fractured collar bone
- Contusion or concussion
- Facial, eye or dental injuries
Most mountain bike injuries are preventable
As most veteran riders know, anything can happen out on the trail. That might be what I love most about the sport, the unexpected adventure. Still, having to cut a ride short due to injury is never fun.
More experienced riders also know that the majority of injuries are preventable. Why? Because we’ve made the dumb mistakes and have the bumps, scars and bruises to prove it. What I want for you is that you ride injury free as much as possible.
I’m going to start by outlining some general injury prevention strategies. Then, I’m going to give you the skinny on times when I got hurt — which taught me how to avoid injury.
1.Tricks to stay hydrated while MTBing
One of the most common mistakes people make out on the trail is forgetting to drink water. The secret is that good hydration starts before the ride. Even mild dehydration can affect your ability to concentrate. If you get distracted while riding in the woods, you could end up smacking into a tree.
You’ve seen folks using hydration packs – Why? They work. Being able to reach down grab your straw and get a couple sips of water will keep you hydrated. No sales here – I’m not pushing a brand. Go to Amazon and get a hydration pack. LINK – HYDRATION PACK ON AMAZON
They way I pre-hydrate is by sipping from a water bottle while I get my bike and gear ready. If it’s a hot day, just loading your bike onto your car can make you break a sweat. Either way, it’s good to fill up your body’s water reserves before you begin to pedal.
I also make sure I bring plenty of H2O on the ride. Generally, I avoid flavored drinks since they can actually increase your thirst. Plus, most of them are full of sugar and chemicals I don’t need. Finally, sip frequently while riding. Don’t wait until you’re super thirsty to drink. Keep your body fluid level topped off.
Are you looking for some techniques to avoid injury when falling off? Read this article: How to Fall Off a Mountain Bike without Getting Hurt.
2. Avoid the dreaded bonk – energy for the Mountain Biker
When someone bonks on a ride, it means they have no energy left at all. They must stop pedalling and may even have to lie down on the trailside. It’s a miserable feeling. In the worst cases, you can even feel nauseated and/or throw up.
One of the best ways to avoid bonking is to eat before the ride to have sufficient energy stores. One of my favorite pre-ride meals is oatmeal with slices of banana or strawberry. This seems to give me a good balance of energy throughout the ride. For rides over an hour, I also bring along an energy bar or two. If I get hungry on the trail, I eat.
Another reason people bonk is that they bite off more than they can chew. If you’re just getting into the sport, don’t plan super long rides. Ease into it.
Some rules of thumb:
- Avoid heavy, greasy, creamy, garlic filled foods pre-ride
- Long ride – large meal – 2-3 hours pre-ride
- Short ride – small meal – 1-3 hours pre ride
3. Wear a helmet – Seriously be safe to so you can pedal another day
This might seem like common sense to some, but there are still a few holdouts that don’t use helmets. I can’t imagine why since a helmet could literally save your life.
So cover your noggin. If you are downhilling, go with a full face helmet and body armor.
4. Plan Ahead – Taking a wrong turn can be an adventure
Yes, I love adventure, and sometimes part of the fun is getting lost. Still, a bit of planning usually makes rides safer and more enjoyable. So check out trailside maps and snap a photo of them with your cell phone. Consider time and distance before you ride. Remember, a hour out might be up to 1.25 or 1.5 hours back since you’ll be tired. Exhausted riders crash more often.Stretch and warm up
Pre-ride stretching isn’t bad, but it might not actually be necessary. Sports medicine research shows that if the activity is not explosive, then stretching beforehand may not reduce injury. Still, I wouldn’t jump on my bike cold, sprint and huck off a jump either.
Some of my buddies have an entire stretching ritual which is fine. What do I do? I coast around on my bike and work on simple skills, like trackstanding (staying on your pedals without the bike moving forward). Plus, when we begin the ride, we go at an easy pace and build from there. Once the blood fills your muscles and you begin to sweat, you’re good to go full tilt.
Now let’s move onto some more specific mountain bike injuries and how to avoid them.
5. Skin abrasions caused by rocks and branches – Part of Mountain Biking
Any time your body rubs on something, you lose skin — sometimes a lot. Avoid this by riding smart and anticipating. Don’t look at the patch of dirt ahead of your front tire. Lift your chin and look ahead.
If you do get a cut or abrasion, squirt of the affected area right away with water. Be careful not to overdo it though. If you are far out on the trail, conserve water, since you’ll need some juice for the ride home. When you get home, clean the wound with plenty of warm, soapy water and apply and antiseptic bandage.
For deeper cuts and wounds, go to the ER and see if you need stitches.
6. Low back pain on a Mountain Bike – ways to avoid
Low back pain is super common, and it’s sometimes caused by poor bike setup. The best fix for this is to go to your local bike shop for advice. Do not go to a big sports store chain. They might not have enough experience to guide you with things like seat height, handlebar position and pedal cleat placement.
Read about what kind of mountain bike you should be looking at if you’ve suffered with back problems. Here’s a link to the article: Best Mountain Bikes for Back Pain
If you have persistent low back pain, you might want to see a doctor. The last thing you want to do is go around riding with a herniated disc. Finally, if you’re carrying around a few extra pounds around the waist, this might cause back pain. Mountain biking is a great way to get rid of that spare tire!
If you would like to read some more indepth reports on Mountain Biking Injuries go to the the study in CURRENT SPORTS MEDICINE REPORTS – Mountain Biking Injuries.
7. Knee pain / cycling ITB syndrome
Knee pain is quite common among cyclists. This is ironic, since for knee rehab, stationary cycling is usually recommended. Still, for the MTB crowd, other knee injury factors exist, such as impact and/or twisting when trying to clip out of pedals.
Knee pain usually can be traced to one of the following factors:
- Saddle too high or low
- Seat too far forward or back
- Using too high (hard) of a gear — “pedal mashing”
- Hard sprinting
- Poor pedal cleat placement
- Crank length too long or too short
Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome is a common cyclist’s knee ailment. Usually you feel pain at the outside of your knee. It can be sharp or burning pain. The ITB is a band of fibrous tissue that runs from your hip to just below the outer edge of the knee. When this gets inflamed, it can cause ride stopping pain. ITB syndrome might be caused by cleats that place your feet in a pigeon toed position.
Like back pain, consult with your local bike shop about set up. And if the pain persists, see a doctor.
8. Injury due to falls of a bike
A wide range of injuries can happen when you fall to the side or flip over the handlebars. You might sprain or break your hand or wrist. You could also end up with a dislocated shoulder. The best way to avoid these injuries is to avoid falls.
Be aware of your skill level and get a sense of what your capable of. Read how to improve your skills falling off in this article: How to Fall Off Your MTB the Right Way
Many of the tips I already mentioned help prevent falls. For instance, if you are well hydrated and fueled, you’ll be more alert and agile. Also, constantly scanning the trail ahead prevents surprises. Finally, for more advanced techniques, like bunny hops, jumps and riding over logs, it might be best to practice first.
Still, if you ride trails with obstacles, there’s a good chance you’ll fall sooner or later. When it happens try to tuck and roll if you can. If you stick an arm out, that’s when hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries happen.
9. Saddle Sores
When I first started riding, I got a sore butt. Pretty much everyone does at first. Then you get used to the bike seat. Saddle choice is very personal. The ideal fit is usually a seat that has good contact with your pelvis bone at points called the ischial tuberosity (sit bones).
Even with the best saddle fit and position, you can get irritation in sensitive areas of your body that come into contact with the bike seat. Major long distance cyclists even can have very swollen tissues and nodules develop down below. You can also end up with sores, abrasions and even skin infections.
You can do a couple simple things and prevent saddle sores. Read about what I’ve learned in this article: Tips to Prevent Chafing on a Mountain Bike
I prevent saddle sores by always wearing ultra clean, padded bike shorts. Also, when the ride is over, I change into regular shorts or get a shower ASAP. If I do notice I begin to get irritated down there, I spread on some petroleum jelly to the tender area before the ride begins.
10. Head Injury on a Mountain Bike
We already talked about wearing helmets and avoiding falls. Those are the best methods for head safety. I remember on a few of my early rides, I would bang my helmet on low hanging branches. This happened since I didn’t anticipate the added bulk my helmet adds to my body profile. So now I exaggerate when I duck under obstacles.
Facial, eye and tooth injury prevention
I’ve had plenty of swipes with branches that leave a nasty scrape on the face. Still, a stick in the eye would be much worse. No matter if you have vision problems or not, it’s a good idea to wear sports eyewear. I’d say it’s mandatory.
Learn how to select Prescription Mountain Bike Glasses in this article: Mountain Biking with Glasses. If you need some tips for selecting mountain bike sunglasses read this article: How to Select Sunglasses for Mountain Biking
Some prefer sunglasses. Even if you don’t want tinted lenses, you can use clear ones for cloudy days or night rides. Plenty of times my eyewear saved me from kicked up mud, low hanging branches and insects.
If you chip a tooth, look for the chipped piece. Your dentist might be able to put it back into place. Also, if you get a tooth knocked out, pick it up by the crown – not the root. If you can, ride home with the tooth between your jaw and cheek. If you can’t see the dentist right away, store the tooth in milk.
- Learn how to install MTB pedals the easy way in this article. – How to Remove and Install Mountain Bike Pedals with VIDEO
- Handle bars are a contact point that most riders struggle with getting right. Read these article Why are MTB Handle Bars so Wide? and How to Make Handle Bars More Comfortable.
- Stopping is important this articles that provide details about MTB disc brakes. How to Install Disc Brakes and How to Clean Disc Brakes on an MTB
If you get hurt on the trail
If you crash, don’t panic and don’t move too fast. Take it easy and take an inventory of your body. Next, try to slowly disengage yourself from the bike and sit or lie on the trailside for a bit. On one of my more serious falls, I tried to get up too soon, got woozy and nearly passed out.
If you feel like you might have a neck injury, don’t move. Instead call for help.
Impact and trauma can sometimes cause a state of shock. When this happens you get lightheaded since your blood pressure drops. The best thing to do is have a friend hold your legs up or rest them on a nearby rock or tree trunk.
Other tips for safe trail riding
Here are a few more odds and ends about riding safety:
- Always tell someone back home where you are going.
- Bring your cell phone, fully charged.
- Wear plenty of reflective clothing and use lights for night riding.
- When venturing on the road, look drivers in the eye at intersections.
Bring a bit of extra water and food – for your friend who’s bonking
David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or casting a fly on a small mountain stream. Read more about David HERE.