Cyclists, Here’s How to Save Your Lower Back

By Savanna Stone
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Cyclists, Here’s How to Save Your Lower Back

When you have back pain, it can be hard to find the right exercise to do. Some cyclists say that biking helps with their lower back pain while others say it makes it worse. Why is this? Does cycling help or hinder progress of reducing lower back pain? While you should always consult your doctor about what to do for your back pain, most studies say that because cycling is a low impact exercise it is a good exercise for lower back pain if you’re doing it right. So how do you bike without lower back pain? Let’s find out.


What causes back pain for cyclists?

One reason people who love to bike experience lower back pain is because they bend forward (to reduce air resistance and ride fast). This is called flexion relaxation, which causes your body to rely on the wrong muscles. Of course, we don’t want you to stop bending forward, we just want you to bend forward the right way (we’ll talk about the right way to bend in the next section). Another reason cyclists experience lower back pain is because their bikes aren’t the right size, which causes lower back muscles more strain. There are some causes of lower back pain, however, that might not be caused by cycling, so always check with your doctor to see if cycling is right for you. For example, if you have lumbar degenerative disc disease, you might want to use a reclining stationary bike for exercise instead of going cycling.


How to prevent or fix back pain caused from cycling.

Bend the right way. Bending forward for less air resistance is important in cycling, but there are two ways to do it, and one of them is wrong. When you bend forward, you want to make sure you are bending at the hip and not bending at the lumbar spine (the lower back). If you bend at the lumbar spine, you will experience back pain because you are putting extra strain on your spine and causing an unnatural curvature of your lumbar spine. 

Make sure your bike is the right size for you. Getting your bike fit for you is an important step in preventing lower back pain while cycling. You want to fit your bike so that you can comfortably reach your handlebars when sitting upright and so that your elbows have a slight bend when you’re bent down in riding position. You’ll also want to make sure that your seat isn’t too high. You will know your seat is too high if your hips rock from side to side while pedaling, which is what causes lower back pain. While pedaling, your knee should have a slight bend at the bottom of the stroke. If your leg is straight at the bottom of the stroke, your seat is too high.  Making sure your seat is the right height and your stem is the right length are the two most important things when it comes to sizing your bike for lower back pain. 

Ride at a higher cadence. A higher cadence works your cardiovascular system more, whereas a lower cadence stresses and tires the muscles. Try riding at 90 RPM or higher. Working up to this cadence might be hard, but it will be worth it for your back pain.

Exercise your core. Strengthening your core muscles is always a great way to reduce any type of back pain. When you pedal on a bike, your core stabilizes your pelvis. Having a strong core is important because having a weak core means you’ll use your lower back muscles to compensate. 

Increase mobility by stretching tight hamstrings. Your hamstrings attach to the muscles in your lower back, so tight hamstrings might be what is causing you lower back pain while cycling. Use the Deep Tissue Chirp Wheel+ to foam roll and stretch your hamstrings before and after a ride. Also consider stretching tight quadriceps, hip flexors, piriformis, and other muscles that connect to your pelvis. Check out this blog post to learn the best stretches for lower back pain



References

Argent, P. (2018, October 24). Lower back pain from cycling: Why it happens and how to prevent it. Retrieved from https://cyclingtips.com/2018/10/lower-back-pain-from-cycling-why-it-happens-and-how-to-prevent-it/

Arthurs-Brennan, M. (2019, January 28). Lower back pain: causes and prevention for cyclists. Retrieved from https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/lower-back-pain-dont-blame-the-bike-32094

Flowers, S. (2019, November 2). Is Cycling Good For Lower Back Pain? Retrieved from https://bicycleuniverse.com/cycling-back-pain/

Hyde, T. (2012). Bicycling and Back Pain. Retrieved from https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/sports-and-spine-injuries/bicycling-and-back-pain

Lindsay, M. (2017, October 3). 5 Fixes for Cycling-Related Lower Back Pain: MapMyRun. Retrieved from https://blog.mapmyrun.com/5-fixes-cycling-related-lower-back-pain/

Sidhu, J. (2019, April 28). How to Avoid Lower Back Pain While Cycling. Retrieved from https://www.wikihow.com/Avoid-Lower-Back-Pain-While-Cycling

Yeager, S. (2020, January 17). 7 Ways to Banish Lower Back Pain for Good. Retrieved from https://www.bicycling.com/training/a20017235/8-ways-to-reduce-low-back-pain/