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Back Pain in Cycling

Low back pain is an extremely common complaint among cyclists. Most serious riders have experienced low back pain at some time riding while others may be plagued by continued low back pain. Low back pain will increase with increased time spent on the bike and in a more aerodynamic position.

Proper bike fit and cycling posture is essential for prevention and treatment of low back pain in cycling.

Ideally the low back should be maintained in a neutral position while riding. If a riding position is too long or too low the cyclist's back will be extended into an uncomfortable lordodic posture. This will result in increased pressure on the posterior elements of the lumbar vertebra. If on the other hand the reach is too short, the low back will be forced into a flexed position placing increased pressure on the vertebral discs. Getting the proper stem/top tube length and stem rise is therefor critical. Riders with chronic low back pain will need to come up to a higher torso angle.

Finding and maintaining a neutral spine/pelvis position is the key to preventing low back pain. Once you've found your neutral spine you will need to train yourself to maintain it while riding (similar to maintaining proper sitting posture at a desk).

A seat that is too high or a leg length discrepancy will cause excessive side to side rock while riding. This will caused repeated tilt and rotation stress on the low back.

A saddle is that is not level can also cause low back pain. If A saddle is tilted backwards this  will cause a posterior tilt of the pelvis and consequently strain the low back. If you are sliding forwards from a forward tilting saddle you'll be putting too much weight on your arms.

Muscle imbalances and control
The position of the pelvis may be influenced by the large muscles that attach to it. Tight hamstrings tend to posteriorly tilt the pelvis while tight quadriceps and hip flexors tend to anteriorly tilt the pelvis. Maintaining good flexibility can reduce strain on the low back.

On-the-bicycle stretches can also be very helpful.

A strong core and abdominals are important in maintaining a neutral spine and provide a stable platform needed for effective transfer of force to the pedals.

Training & riding technique
Pushing too big a gear for too long and staying seated climbing for too long can cause the back muscles to fatigue. As a consequence a neutral pelvic tilt will be lost resulting in a painful low back posture. Most of the back muscles contract isometrically while riding to provide stability. Prolonged isometric contractions can cause painful ischemia, muscle spasm and accumulation of lactic acid. Changing your posture regularly by alternating hand position and coming up into a standing position while riding can alleviate strain imposed by a prolonged static posture. As with all overuse injuries, gradually increasing you training and spinning early in the season is important in prevention.

Stress on the mountain biker's back comes from repetitive jolting and vibration from rough terrain. Suspension and underinflating the tires can help reduce this.

Cycling should be an enjoyable experience not a painful one. Paying attention to proper riding posture and technique can eliminate unnecessary back pain.


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