Whether you ride a bicycle for exercise, to commute to work or school, or just to have some outdoor fun, the benefits can be great. Cycling is a low impact sport that can help strengthen muscles and bones, control weight, improve cardiovascular health and even boost your mood and mental health. But along with the many benefits of cycling comes an increased risk for injury.
"Overuse injuries to the back, neck, knees and hands are the most common, as well as minor scrapes and bruises," said Uri Adler, M.D., Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (www.kessler-rehab.com). "However, riders often experience fractures, and chest, back and abdominal injuries. In fact, one in eight riders will sustain a traumatic brain injury. And while bicyclists make up only about 1% of road traffic, they account for more than 21% of all fatalities.1"
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (www.cdc.gov), adolescents and adults between the ages of 45–54 have the highest rate of fatalities, and men are far more likely than women to be injured. Cycling accidents also result in more than 580,000 visits to the emergency room each year – nearly 60% of which involve children, adolescents and young adults between 15-24 years of age1.
"Helmets can reduce the likelihood of a brain injury by more than 85%, which is why wearing a helmet is mandated for children and strongly recommended for all adults," explained Dr. Adler. "Wearing the proper protective gear, making sure the bicycle is right for the rider and following the rules of the road are all critical factors in helping to avoid injury."
As a leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, Kessler Institute offers the following guidelines for both adults and children:
- Choose the type of bike – city, touring, racing, mountain, etc. – that best suits your needs and make sure the bike is the proper size and fit for the rider.
- Always check to see that the tires are sufficiently inflated and that the brakes and handlebars are in good working order before riding.
- Do some warm-up exercises and stretching to help get muscles and joints ready to ride.
- Wear a helmet! Make sure it is properly fitted and meets industry guidelines.
- Be visible. Wearing reflective or bright-colored clothing will help drivers and others see you. In addition, wear appropriate foot gear. Never ride barefoot or in flip-flops.
- Follow the rules of the road. Cyclists are required to follow the same laws as cars, including stopping at red lights and stop signs.
- Ride with the flow of traffic. Signal before making turns and look all around when changing lanes or turning.
- Be aware of potential road hazards, such as pot holes and debris, and anticipate what other cyclists, cars and pedestrians may do that could cause you to swerve or have an accident.
- Never talk, text or take photos while riding.
- If you experience any pain in your chest, arms and legs, shortness of breath or profuse sweating, stop riding immediately and seek emergency medical attention.
"Like any form of exercise or recreational activity, cyclists need to be physically fit, mentally alert, and most of all, smart about how they ride," said Dr. Adler. "Observing both the rules of the sport and those of the road can make cycling safer and more enjoyable."