There is no denying a vein of sadomasochism in cycling. Learning to ignore – or even enjoy – pain cause by muscle fatigue is part of the allure of cycling for many. Feel the burn! It is a common mantra, and applicable here.
However, it is also important to know when to stop and listen to the pain. Being able to differentiate between discomfort cause by the natural creation of lactic acid in the muscles and pain indicating a strain or pull can be the difference between one short ride, or several weeks off of the bike.
This has become painfully clear to me (both figuratively and literaly) recently has I’ve been hit with another round of symptoms from Iliotibial Band Syndrome. In a nut shell, this is the irritation of a particular tendon that runs across the outside of your knee. During normal cycling, this tendon rubs across the knee every time the knee bends. In certain circumstances, the tendon will become inflamed and cause pain. Unfortunately, the inflammation of the tendon can actually increase the rubbing and snapping that happens due to the size increase – a kinda nasty feedback loop of sorts.
This is definitely one of those times when riding through the pain will make things worse for you – both short and long term. Aside from long term muscle building and flexibility improvements, the only relief comes from allowing the inflammation to subside. And that isn’t going to happen unless you stay off of the bike for a while.