Knee pain riding on trainer

I am a senior 62+ rider. I’ve been mountain biking about five years but I am very new to riding on a trainer. I bought a Wahoo kickr about a month ago and signed up for Zwift.

In my prior five years of mtn biking I did not have any knee pain from riding. Very early on riding on the trainer I notice soreness in my right knee. Initially I only noticed the soreness at night while sleeping, or trying to sleep. It has progressed from soreness to outright pain and gotten to the point of keeping me awake.

I have started icing my knee and taking a couple ibuprofen after riding the trainer which has helped but the pain persists.

Stat wise my trainer rides are easier than my trail rides. Most trail rides are in the ballpark of 12 - 14 miles with 100+ feet of elevation per mile. I’ve been doing shorter trainer rides that usually have less than 100 feet of elevation per mile. One difference for sure is that unlike trainer riding, trail riding is a mixture of sitting and standing. Definitely a lot more standing when trail riding.

Same bike, same kit, same everything. Only thing different is riding on the trainer.

Just wondering if anyone else has had this experience? Any suggestions on changes to bike set up from trail riding to trainer riding?

Do you use clipless pedals/cleats? If so your cleat position on you RH shoe may need to be adjusted. Riding on a trainer is much more rigid than real life riding so small things like this might pop up that don’t affect your outdoor rides. I lean towards cleat position because it’s only one knee and not both, but minor tweaks to seat position could help as well.

Agree, pedals were the first thing I thought about.
Also, same bike may be an issue.
A MTN bike on Zwift will tend to result in a higher cadence than on a trail, unless using ERG.
Trail riding ,in general, consists of far more out of saddle pedaling than road riding which in turn, has more out of saddle time than Zwift.
Combine that with the tendency of most MTB to spin out (run out of gears) on Zwift,and the result is a lot of seat time.
Also, if your MTB has a dropper post, then you’re freq changing that.
MTB and Zwift are polar opposites.
Zwift is a great way to get in MTB shape doing high intensity intervals. I just think a MTB on a trainer is the wrong tool.

Also cleat float. Zero float can cause knee pain, but would be weird for it to only affect one knee.

I’d recommend seeing a bike fitter. A lot of the time, overuse injuries can be attributed to our position, and a good fitter can recommend changes that would solve things.

Thanks for all of the suggestions. I should have mentioned that I’m using flat pedals. After I started noticing the knee pain I removed almost all of the grip studs on the pedals so my feet weren’t as locked into one position.
I am well aware that for many reasons the mtn bike on Zwift is not the ideal tool but it is the tool I have and I’m trying to make it work. In the past I have been able to trail ride most of the winter but this winter is different. Just trying to maintain some level of fitness and activity so I’m not starting from scratch when the weather finally clears. At my age it’s really hard to make up lost fitness ground.

Hi Elvis,
Might be helpful to know where the pain in your knee is located…front, back, inside, outside?

One thought though without additional info on pain location is what’s your cadence and gearing? Now that you are seated more, if you are “mashing” in a harder gear rather than “spinning” in an easier gear, you will put more burden upon your knees.

The knee pain feels like it’s directly under and slightly below the kneecap.It doesn’t hurt at all when I’m riding.

I am trying to avoid mashing. The cadence sensor is helpful there.

I strongly recommend that you see an expert about your knee. Ideally both a professional bike fit (a highly trained and experienced fitter and not just someone in a bike shop) and a physiotherapist/osteopath or similar to treat your knee injury. Otherwise things are just going to get worse and potentially get serious.


Completely anecdotal so almost certainly useless but I developed knee pain like this (one knee, no change to bike, fine when riding etc, wouldn’t go away despite stretching and other pain relief techniques), though it was quite a long time after starting Zwift. I found out totally by chance - when my trainer was away for repair - that it went away when I mixed up my exercise with a bit of running. Obviously doing just one form of exercise isn’t a particularly good idea anyway, but it was never a problem until it was. Been absolutely fine since, I just do a run every now and then. I assume some aspect of my knee(s) had just become weak and underdeveloped due to a lack of diversity.

Chances are for you, it’s just the transition to a static position. But thought I’d mention it.

I definitely second Steve’s recommendation that you see a specialist physician and Dave’s thought that transition to static position has illuminated an issue.

Many issues in the lower leg and knee (especially single sided ones) are caused by weaknesses and imbalances elsewhere (glutes, quads, hips, hamstrings). And good sports med doc or PT can help pinpoint them with a few tests.

While you’re waiting to get your appointment, you might check out the article below just to get a general sense of cycling and knee issues. But you should definitely see someone qualified for an evaluation as everyone is different.

P.S. I’d recommend seeing the PT prior getting the bike fit to make sure you have a clear idea of any weaknesses or imbalances (as well as course of action if needed i.e. therapy ) before you try to adjust the bike to help compensate.

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