Whether it’s a dull twinge that creeps up towards the end of your ride or a raging sciatica that stops you from riding altogether, back pain can ruin your cycling. The good news is that you can do some simple things to help prevent and treat it. Back pain is often caused by tight muscles in the front of your body, like quads and hip flexors, that become fatigued from mile after mile of pedaling. Strengthening these muscles and doing some off-bike conditioning can help reduce lower back discomfort.
Strengthening the Back Muscles
Cycling is excellent exercise and helps to strengthen the legs, hips, and shoulders. However, it’s essential to exercise the back muscles to prevent injury and pain and reduce lower back discomfort while riding a bike. Strengthening the back muscles can help improve posture and reduce lower back pain while riding. One of the most common causes of back pain is having poor posture. If you are hunched over, or your back is too straight and curved forward, it strains the spine and the muscles that support it. Another cause is the bike fit. If the seat is too high or the handlebars are too low, this can also create a strain on the lower back. A study that compared cyclists who didn’t have back problems with those who did found that those with pain were more likely to be in a static bent-forward (flexion) position on the bike. This puts more strain on the deep lower back muscles, which are critical for stability in the lumbar spine. In addition, the flexion position can also lead to fatigue in the Achilles tendon. One way to decrease this risk is to make sure your bike fits you well and practice stretching exercises such as a child’s pose to help loosen the tightness in the front of the body. This will help reduce the bending and flexing of the spine, leading to back pain.
Whether it’s a dull ache that sets in toward the end of a long ride or a twinge when getting into the chair at the coffee shop, back pain is a regular companion for many cyclists. Whether a temporary ache after a few days of rest or a chronic pain that doesn’t seem to disappear, strengthening the back muscles and proper pedaling technique can help prevent or reduce back problems while cycling. A vital issue in cycling-related back pain is increased flexion (bending forward) while seated on a bike. This puts a more significant load on the tissues that support the lumbar spine and stresses ligaments that contain pain receptors. In a 2015 study, researchers found that cyclists with chronic lower-back pain exhibited a steady increase in spine flexion while riding and less activity of deep low-back muscles, called multifidus — critical stabilizers of the lumbar spine. Raising the seat height is a straightforward adjustment that reduces spinal flexion and alleviates back pain. You can do this by loosening the saddle binder bolt (the seat fixing bolt) and adjusting it upwards or downwards as needed. The correct position is where the ball of your foot if dropped from above the pedal spindle, sits just in front of it, says Krueger. Getting this right is crucial because it allows you to use your major leg muscles in a good, efficient way.
Cyclists need to have strong, balanced muscles to perform at their best. It is essential to train all major muscle groups involved in cycling, especially those in the lower back and core. If these muscles are weak, they can cause movement imbalances and injuries. For example, if your hip flexors and quads become tight from riding mile after mile, this can cause excess stiffness in the lower back. Then, when you pedal hard, the extra stress can send a message to your back that it is time to flex and push against your legs. The result is that your back muscles get fatigued, and the back pain increases. Another reason that weak core muscles can lead to cycling-related back pain is that they affect the spine’s posture. Research has shown that when the back muscles (erector) fatigue, they make it harder to support the lower back. This leads to shifting the weight onto the front of the bike, which creates an unsupported, painful position for the spine. This can be prevented by strengthening these muscles, such as the bridge exercise. To do this, lie on your back with your legs hip-width apart, a small distance from each other, and your arms extended straight out in a plank position. Slowly raise your upper body and roll your pelvis forward to bring your lower back into a flat, neutral position.
Taking Care of Your Bike
The right bike fit and technique are crucial for all cyclists, especially those with lower back pain. Tweaks like a shorter stem, a more narrow handlebar, and a more upright posture can prevent excessive stress on the shoulders and wrists, alleviating pressure on the lower back. In addition, cycling in the wrong gear can overwork and fatigue the glutes and hamstrings, leading to back pain. This is particularly true when climbing hills, where shifting gears are required frequently. Tight quads can tilt the pelvis forward, and tight hamstrings can tilt it back, which can cause strain on the lower back. Weakness in other areas, such as weak core muscles, can also make the lower-back muscles overwork and cause them to fatigue, resulting in back pain. The proper riding position involves a slight lean forward, reducing the stress on the lower back. In addition, the handlebars should be at a height that allows you to reach them without excessive stretching or bending. This can help reduce the stress on your shoulders and elbows and alleviate back pain.