Many people enjoy cycling, as it is a form of low impact exercise – which means that it does not place undue pressure on your joints, even as it still keeps you fit. However, that might raise questions about whether it is safe for you if you happen to have back pains, which can be a major struggle as your body strives to relearn its balance.
The answer to this is not as straightforward, as it depends on a number of factors – and there can be multiple reasons for back pains developing as well. Regarding the safety of your back while cycling, there are a number of factors to keep in mind, so it is always helpful; to ask your doctor about it. Read on for some of our tips regarding this issue.
Why is cycling a good exercise routine?
Cycling happens to be among the most popular aerobic exercises, and it is for good reason – it is also favored by people who experience back pains. Some of the reasons for this include:
- It is less irritating to your spine compared to the other aerobic exercises like running. In fact, stationary biking is quite gentle on the spinal cord, and there are quite a variety of spinning classes that can give you a good workout without putting undue stress on the lower back
- Certain back conditions will make some people enjoy the position of leaning slightly forward on the handlebars of a bike seat, such as Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Certain back conditions can make someone more comfortable in a reclining seat, such as Lumbar degenerative disc disease, so they can use recumbent bikes
How biking causes pain in the back
Even though your legs are the ones doing most of the work as you cycle, lower back pain ends up being one of the risks that come with it, not knee pain as you might initially assume. Studies have even been done on various cyclists, such as a Norwegian one that focused on a group of about 120 road cyclists, and looked at their injuries, eventually finding the following results:
- 41% of cyclists had sought treatment for back pain
- 45% of injuries were on the lower back
- 58% of the cyclists had gone through lower back pain within a year
- 23% of injuries were in the knees
This might seem surprising, but there are a number of reasons that lead to lower back pain among cyclists, even though it is a low impact sport. They include:
- Muscle fatigue – you might set up your bike correctly and follow all the instructions, but still come out with discomfort, however, muscle fatigue plays a role in this. A study revealed that when a cyclist pedals until they get exhausted, their calves and hamstrings will get tired as expected – however, this results in changes to the movement patterns of muscles, resulting in changes to the lower back (lumbar regions). In other words, the spinal posture becomes worse when your legs are increasingly tired.
- Impairments in the spinal movements – a certain study focused on the effects of a forward-bending position on the extensor muscles (the ones that help your lower back stay in correct posture). When you prolong the periods of bending forward, these muscles eventually struggle to generate the force that keeps your spine in its proper position.
Even though cycling is good, it can sometimes lead to issues with your back and neck areas, through:
- The little conditioning that it gives to the muscles in your back
- The posture you take can end up straining the lower back since the spine is always pulling up or flexing
- If you cycle in rough terrain, the spine can suffer from compression, which results in pain
- The neck can undergo strain, especially if your position is making it arch backward (as is the case with bikes that have aerodynamic bars)
How can you solve the problem?
Do core strengthening exercises regularly
Based on the evidence from the studies above, cyclists need to do plenty of exercises that strengthen the core and lower back to avoid the pains associated with these regions. There are three main exercises that can help:
- The founder – this activates the lower back, and you should do it before cycling. The result should be feeling a burn through the lower and upper back, hamstrings and glutes
- Woodpecker – like the founder, it is best to do it before you cycle. It activates the muscle fibers that are deeply embedded in your gluteal region, and you should eventually feel a burn in them
- Planks – this engages the muscles that make up the core, and you should do it before cycling to activate them.
Deal with your posture
Whether you are a recreational or pro cyclist, you need to always address your posture when sitting and walking or standing, without slumping. This particularly affects recreational cyclists, especially if you spend hours at an office desk – which can havoc your posture if you are not careful.
Select bikes that have the correct frame geometry
While this might seem like a minor issue, it is still important to consider. When you select a frame that has the correct geometry and ensure that you have a correct body posture on it, it will help to reduce unnecessary loading on the knees, lower back, neck and shoulders.
Some of the elements to keep in mind are fork offsets, seat tube length, head tube angle, top tube length, seat tube angle, wheelbase, rear center, and head tube length.
Optimize the bike set-up
There are a number of things to look at when setting up your bike to ensure you ride optimally, which include:
- Saddle height – the knees must be slightly bent when the pedal is at the bottom and the ball of your foot should rest completely on the pedal.
- Saddle angle – must be in a horizontal position
- Backward and forward position of saddle
- Position of the handlebars
Lower back pain is a common problem that happens to cyclists, and the solutions depend on several factors that you need to consider. If you are not sure whether you should use a bike, talk to your doctor about it and get proper advice on the issue before knowing where to adjust.