Does Your Bicycle Hurt You?
Poor spinal health is common in cyclists and is often due to bad posture or injury. As in any sport, if you favor one side of your body or the other due to injury or poor posture, your back eventually takes the strain.
Johnathan Edwards, MD. a practicing sports doctor and anesthesiologist in Las Vegas, has been a sports doctor for American cyclists, as well as in Europe He feels lower back pain in a young cyclist without any other problems is often due to mechanical factors. The most common is bike fit. Another problem he sees frequently is a lack of core strength and flexibility. Like many other athletes, cyclists consider themselves to be in good shape in association with the time, distance and speed they go on their bikes, very often not thinking of how this affects the rest of their body.
So before you do that 50 mile Saturday or come down that trail at ridiculous speeds, do a few things:
Check Your Bike Fit
Pain on the bike is most often due to a poor bike fit. If you are rocking side to side when you pedal, this will lead to low back pain. It also expends almost double the energy. If you can’t be fitted by a professional, look in a mirror. You should have 25-35° of knee flexion at the 6 o’clock position.
Your handlebar could also cause low back pain. Everyone one likes a different position but very often pulling the handle bar toward you and lifting it even slightly can relieve pressure on the lumbar spine.
Work on that Core
As in most athletic pursuits, core training is a must with cycling. The stronger your core, the faster you’ll go. If your core is weak, your back takes the brunt of the exercise. It will get sore and tired, leading you to shorter rides and less enjoyment. A stronger core also allows you to stay in the cycling position for much longer without pain.
Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
Tight hamstrings are a common ailment for cyclists. They are followed closely by tight quadriceps, hip flexors, piriformis and other muscles. All these muscles, unstretched both before and after a long cycle, can lead to pain in that muscle but also back pain. Warm up a little first and then stretch frequently, especially on long rides.
Increase your Stamina Slowly
Rome was not built in a day. You will not be in the Tour de France tomorrow. Increase the length of your rides slowly (approximately 20% weekly). Listen to your body. Check your bike fit and if it doesn’t feel right, get someone else to check it with you.
Get out there, have fun, wear a helmet and as always, protect your back.
- Balasubramanian V, Jagannath M, Adalarasu K. Muscle fatigue based evaluation of bicycle design. Appl Ergon. 2014 Mar;45(2):339-45. PubMed PMID: 23647886
- Hodselmans AP, Dijkstra PU, Geertzen JH, van der Schans CP. Exercise capacity in non-specific chronic low back pain patients: a lean body mass-based Astrand bicycle test; reliability, validity and feasibility. J Occup Rehabil. 2008 Sep;18(3):282-9. PubMed PMID: 18626754
Last modified: September 5, 2019