Conflicting Information about Saddle Height / Knee Pain



teetopkram

New Member
Jan 27, 2006
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Greetings everyone:

The vast majority of everything i have read indicates that pain on the front of the knee can be attributed to a saddle height that is too low, whereas pain in the posterior is caused by a saddle too high.

To make a long story short, for the past few months I have suffered from right knee tendinitis, for which I have been doing therapy and it's slowly getting better. Over the past few days I have swapped out my 175mm cranks for 170mm at the recommendation of the LBS where I just got fitted. When doing so, my bike tech (who doesn't work at the same shop), actually LOWERED my saddle height to get to the point where there is a 26-degree bend in my knee at full extension. He said that my original saddle hieght with the 175mm cranks was way too high using this method. I now feel much more compact and don't get near the leg extension I am used to. I guess when I first started riding back in the early 90's the preferred method was almost a full leg extension at the bottom of the downstroke.

Doubting this, I went to another bike fitter who came recommended, who seconded this method and actually lowered my seat further to get to a 30 degree extension.

Now, this contradicted everything I was trying to achieve by going to lower cranks (i.e., less knee bend), everything I had read about combatting anterior knee pain (i.e., raise the saddle), and my inner voice (i.e., I was always comfortable with a higher position). Plus, this does result in a more compact position compared to the Guillard and other methods that suggest almost a full knee extension.

So, after my first 1 hour easy, endurance zone ride (part of my therapy) with this new position, my right knee is now more sore than ever (after it had been progressing over time) and slight swelling has returned. I am bummed.

My questions are: (1) is the overall method of the 25-30 degree knee extension right, and maybe I just lowered the saddle too much too soon, OR (2) is this a debunk method? I will note that in watching riders in recent years, they do seem more compact on the bike, so maybe the trend is in this direction, but clearly my knee has issues with it.

Any advice?

Mark
 

Eastway82

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Apr 12, 2006
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I'm interested in this too - I'm recovering from a motorbike crash which stretched and damaged ligaments and tendons as ell as giving me a cracked tibial plateau (the bit at the top where it becomes part of the knee) and water on the knee. The crack's now healed and the WoTN is on its way out, but it's slow going.
When I first started riding again I couldn't bend my knee enough to use my normal seat height, so I raised my saddle for the first few rides. Now it's back down to my nrmal height but I don't think I'd want it so low as your techies have suggested. Might try it though, in the spirit of enquiry!
One suggestion - while your knees are dodgy, try to do as much of your riding in a lower gear than usual and spinning faster - less stress on your knees and tendons. Also, worth working on your pedalling technique to keep it smooth through the pedal stroke. You don't have to mash it like Ulrich to keep the speed up!
 

531Aussie

Well-Known Member
Apr 11, 2004
12,639
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generally, the 25 to 30 degree bend method is recommended, or at least is a good starting point, but when you have an injury, it's obviously best to sort that out before worrying about any so-called 'ideal' position. For the most part, I've found bike shop dudes just generalize from their own experiences when they set you up -- even the 'experts', to a degree. By the way, there's also the 'heels on the pedals' (basic) set-up technique, and the "105% to 108% of leg length" method, measuring from the top of the pedal to the top of the saddle. My preference is also for a high saddle.

If I had an anterior knee problem, I would ignore the 'ideal' positions, and keep the saddle very high, just until it's cleared up

As you suggest, going to a shorter crank usually requires the saddle to be raised. So, it sounds like this guy has ignored your injury, and prescribed his idea of the perfect positon. And, incidentally, going from 175 to 170, with a 5mm raising of the saddle, reduces knee flexion considerably.

Also, chondromalacia is often misdiagnosed as patella tendinitis. This happened to me about 15 years ago. See my post #6 on this thread :http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php?t=172208
 

mnr3

New Member
Jun 11, 2006
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a few things to consider:
first, keep a record of all the measurement #'s, fore-aft, seat height, etc.
second, most people will agree that even moving the seat 3mm needs time to get used to, so with radical changes like that, take it slow. even if the eventual height is 1.5-2 cm different, you don't change it like that in 1 day! go half a cm or 1/4 inch at a time, for at least 2 weeks, esp. since you changed crank length
third, that does sound a little low; it's not that accurate, but make sure you at least have the full extension (i.e. a straight leg) with your heel on the pedal; anything lower than that is def. wrong, anything higher than about 2 cm. above that is probably too high; about a cm above is about right if you do lots of miles
4th: follow previous guys advice: spin, spin, spin. think in terms of getting easy base miles as if you had not been out all year: no hills, no big ring. it's a good time to work on pedaling technique and see how fast you can spin, not how hard you can push
5th. "spring knee" which sounds sort of what you have is a problem because your knee is irritated and inflamed, so any kind of pedaling will likely bother you, even if the position is perfect, until the inflammation goes down--which it doesn't because you continue to ride. do the ritual: good stretching routine and ibuprofen (advil), icing after a ride, and if it comes to it, the worst: a couple of weeks off the bike (or try your mountain bike or something if you can ride pain free)


so did you always have pain from your old position? if not, then I think it is more a spring knee thing: too much, too soon with resultant chronic inflammation described above. if you had pain-free seasons with the old position, I would go back to the original height, keep the new shorter crank, and be patient: it will take at least 500 miles to get used to just that one minor change.
 

teetopkram

New Member
Jan 27, 2006
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Thanks for all the good advice. It's a very long story, but the injury flared up on my old bike (7 speed Paramount) which had 172.5s and had me set-up old style - seat way back and high saddle height. I had ridden this way for years without problems (though I only started re-riding regularly last summer). It's pretty much the consensus of PTist, physician, etc., that it was a case of doing too much too soon. I went from lots of Z1-3 riding from August to December to doing training crits and lots of sprinting in January. Within three weeks the pain came.

Coincidentally, the same week the injury flared up, my new bike came in which came with 175s. It's been since that time that I have been going to PT and struggling (maybe even over-obsessing as I have gone to 4 different people for fitting) with making my new bike fit perfectly, which in hindsight is going to be difficult to determine when I already have an injury. I am confident the move to 170s was right...I always felt the 175 required too much effort to sping and the 170s just feel natural as I am a high spinner anyway (95-115 RPM) rather than a power gear masher. In theory, having the seat lower makes sense for a spinner like me, but you know, I never had a problem before and was entirely comfortable with my old position.

So based on advice received so far, I am going to remeasure my fit using the heel on pedal method, and maybe raise the saddle at least until the inflammation recedes. The therapy and light riding I had been doing was working well until this recent episode.

Thanks again.

Mark
 

fix

New Member
Mar 1, 2004
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I had a fitting problem that caused a repetitive stress injury. I went to a PT who also previously cycled and worked in an LBS. At the end of my therapy, he did a fitting. His recommended fit included the following:
-knee angle at 15 degrees during full extension
-knee over pedal with foot properly situated over pedal when pedals are at 9:00/3:00 position
We made those adjustments, plus some others related to handlebar and seat position.

I know this differs from your target 25-30 degrees, but I have had no problems with this set-up.

Maybe you can ask your PT if he knows (recommend or can consult) a cycling knowledgable PT. The combined knowledge might get you the answers you need. It really aided my treatment.

Good luck.
 

smotri

New Member
Jan 31, 2006
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For what it is worth, my own experience is with two bicycles, one road bicycle that is a hand-me-down and with the seat somewhat too high (my legs practically fully extend when I pedal), and the other, a mountain bicycle, with it much lower (they don't do so). Both setups work just fine for me and I know that they differ considerably. I've really adjusted everything in a hit-or-miss manner and can't advise you other than to try out different positions until there is no pain, regardless of any angles that people tell you to use.



teetopkram said:
Greetings everyone:

The vast majority of everything i have read indicates that pain on the front of the knee can be attributed to a saddle height that is too low, whereas pain in the posterior is caused by a saddle too high.

To make a long story short, for the past few months I have suffered from right knee tendinitis, for which I have been doing therapy and it's slowly getting better. Over the past few days I have swapped out my 175mm cranks for 170mm at the recommendation of the LBS where I just got fitted. When doing so, my bike tech (who doesn't work at the same shop), actually LOWERED my saddle height to get to the point where there is a 26-degree bend in my knee at full extension. He said that my original saddle hieght with the 175mm cranks was way too high using this method. I now feel much more compact and don't get near the leg extension I am used to. I guess when I first started riding back in the early 90's the preferred method was almost a full leg extension at the bottom of the downstroke.

Doubting this, I went to another bike fitter who came recommended, who seconded this method and actually lowered my seat further to get to a 30 degree extension.

Now, this contradicted everything I was trying to achieve by going to lower cranks (i.e., less knee bend), everything I had read about combatting anterior knee pain (i.e., raise the saddle), and my inner voice (i.e., I was always comfortable with a higher position). Plus, this does result in a more compact position compared to the Guillard and other methods that suggest almost a full knee extension.

So, after my first 1 hour easy, endurance zone ride (part of my therapy) with this new position, my right knee is now more sore than ever (after it had been progressing over time) and slight swelling has returned. I am bummed.

My questions are: (1) is the overall method of the 25-30 degree knee extension right, and maybe I just lowered the saddle too much too soon, OR (2) is this a debunk method? I will note that in watching riders in recent years, they do seem more compact on the bike, so maybe the trend is in this direction, but clearly my knee has issues with it.

Any advice?

Mark
 

teetopkram

New Member
Jan 27, 2006
78
0
0
fix said:
I had a fitting problem that caused a repetitive stress injury. I went to a PT who also previously cycled and worked in an LBS. At the end of my therapy, he did a fitting. His recommended fit included the following:
-knee angle at 15 degrees during full extension
-knee over pedal with foot properly situated over pedal when pedals are at 9:00/3:00 position
We made those adjustments, plus some others related to handlebar and seat position.

I know this differs from your target 25-30 degrees, but I have had no problems with this set-up.

Maybe you can ask your PT if he knows (recommend or can consult) a cycling knowledgable PT. The combined knowledge might get you the answers you need. It really aided my treatment.

Good luck.

You're not going to believe this, but in between my last post and this one, I talked to me PTist and described the problem. She said it sounds like I have too much extension on the upstroke (12 o'clock) and not enough on the downstroke (6 o'clock), thus putting too much torque on the knee. She said to shoot for 10-15 degrees at full extension, essentially saying for each person there is a sweet spot between too much and too little extension.

This confirms my own experience in a way. For the past few weeks (with the 175s) I had been at a saddle height that didn't seem to exacerbate the knee pain, in fact, as I said, the knee was making gradual improvements. But, being ever the tweaker, I raised the saddle just about 1/4 inch to see if an even greater extension would help...well, after about 1 hour my left knee (which is my shorter leg and had never caused me problems before) was screaming in agony and burning...I immediately stopped, lowered seat to original height, and voila, it went away. So I guess there is indeed a sweet spot that I am just going to have to go back to (original position pre 170s plus 5 mm to compensate for the new crankset).

Thanks again for everyone's advice. I'll need take a couple of days off to ensure the swelling goes down, but after that I'll go back to my original position.

mark
 

PeterF

New Member
Sep 13, 2004
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teetopkram said:
You're not going to believe this, but in between my last post and this one, I talked to me PTist and described the problem. She said it sounds like I have too much extension on the upstroke (12 o'clock) and not enough on the downstroke (6 o'clock), thus putting too much torque on the knee. She said to shoot for 10-15 degrees at full extension, essentially saying for each person there is a sweet spot between too much and too little extension.

This confirms my own experience in a way. For the past few weeks (with the 175s) I had been at a saddle height that didn't seem to exacerbate the knee pain, in fact, as I said, the knee was making gradual improvements. But, being ever the tweaker, I raised the saddle just about 1/4 inch to see if an even greater extension would help...well, after about 1 hour my left knee (which is my shorter leg and had never caused me problems before) was screaming in agony and burning...I immediately stopped, lowered seat to original height, and voila, it went away. So I guess there is indeed a sweet spot that I am just going to have to go back to (original position pre 170s plus 5 mm to compensate for the new crankset).

Thanks again for everyone's advice. I'll need take a couple of days off to ensure the swelling goes down, but after that I'll go back to my original position.

mark
Interesting. I liek the squatty position for power, but it takes it's toll on my left knee (the right seems fine...knock knock..). I raised the seat a bit and it feels a better. I'm probably in the 15 deg range instead of the 25 deg range.
 

was7g

New Member
May 11, 2006
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I have an issue that's very dependent upon seat height and thus leg extension- I injured my lower back last year, and ever since if I try to put my saddle up to high, I end up stretching my lower back at the fullest extension of the leg, which tweaks the injury and leads to pain on long rides. I have to jump off the bike about every 16 km and take a minute to stretch out the back or else I risk reinjuring myself.
 

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